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  health > story pageAIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Forgiveness heals the heart, research hints

Remembering injustices raises heart rate, blood pressure and other signs of stress  

May 20, 1999
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Littleton. Kosovo. Now Georgia. Never before, say some experts, has there been such a need to forgive what seems to be the unforgivable.

Studies funded by the Templeton Forgiveness Research Campaign are trying to monitor and measure the physiological effects of forgiveness and its benefits, taken from the pulpit into the lab.

Everett Worthington is the director of the campaign. One day after mailing off his manuscript outlining a step-by-step process of forgiveness, his own ability was sorely tested when his mother was murdered.

"I remember looking down at the wall and seeing a baseball bat and saying, 'I wish that whoever did this was here right now. I would beat his brains out,'" Worthington said.

Instead, Worthington took his own medicine, focusing on what he considers the most important component of forgiveness -- empathy. In this case, for the burglar who killed his mother.

"I can imagine what it must have been like for this kid to hear behind him a voice saying something like, 'What are you doing here?'" he said.

By understanding how it might have happened, Worthington says he's been able to forgive his mother's murderer.

"I cannot imprison him by holding unforgiveness towards him," he said.

Researchers say there is a physiological reason for forgiveness -- health.

At Hope College in Michigan, researchers measure heart rates, sweat rates and other responses of subjects asked to remember past slights.

"Their blood pressure increases, their heart rate increases, and their muscle tensions are also higher," said professor Charlotte van Oyen Witvliet. This suggests their stress responses are greater during their unforgiving than forgiving conditions.

Scientists also find that forgiveness has a lot to do with genetics. Research in chimpanzees shows it might even be crucial for survival of the species.

"In a cooperative system, it is possible that your biggest rival is someone who you will need tomorrow," said Frans De Waal of Emory University's Yerkes Primate Center.

Clinton, as healer, visits Littleton today
May 20, 1999
Denver groups help trauma victims
April 21, 1999
Mental trauma of Kosovo rape victims difficult to treat
April 17, 1999

Hope College
Radical Forgiveness
Interview with Sir John Templeton
Yerkes Primate Center
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