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A Change of Heart: Cardiovascular Correlates of Forgiveness in Response to Interpersonal Conflict

Abstract

This study sought to examine the psychophysiological correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict. One hundred eight college students (44 males and 64 females) participated in two interviews about times of interpersonal betrayal, one about a parent and one about a friend/partner. Measures of forgiving personality and state forgiveness were collected, as well as stress, hostility, empathy, and self-reported illness symptoms. During baseline, interviews and recovery periods, repeated measures were taken of blood pressure, heart rate, frontalis EMG, and skin conductance. Trait forgiveness was associated with lower levels of blood pressure. State forgiveness was associated with lower blood pressure levels, heart rate, and rate pressure product. Acute, stress-induced reactivity was also linked to forgiveness: state forgiveness was associated with diastolic and mean arterial pressure and rate pressure product reactivity during the parent interview. Increased blood pressure recovery after stress was also linked to trait forgiveness. Forgiveness may produce beneficial effects directly by reducing allostatic load associated with betrayal and conflict, and indirectly through reductions in perceived stress.

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Correspondence to Kathleen A. Lawler.

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Lawler, K.A., Younger, J.W., Piferi, R.L. et al. A Change of Heart: Cardiovascular Correlates of Forgiveness in Response to Interpersonal Conflict. J Behav Med 26, 373–393 (2003) doi:10.1023/A:1025771716686

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  • forgiveness
  • blood pressure
  • health
  • stress