Case Western Reserve (3/4/2008 ) issued the following news release about research
published in the *Journal of Personality & Social Psychology*:

Men Have A Harder Time Forgiving Than Women Do

Forgiveness can be a powerful means to healing, but it does not come
naturally for both sexes. Men have a harder time forgiving than women
do, according to Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie
Juola Exline. But that can change if men develop empathy toward an
offender by seeing they may also be capable of similar actions. Then the
gender gap closes, and men become less vengeful.

In seven forgiveness-related studies Exline conducted between 1998
through 2005 with more than 1,400 college students, gender differences
between men and women consistently emerged. When asked to recall
offenses they had committed personally, men became less vengeful toward
people who had offended them. Women reflecting on personal offenses, and
beginning at a lower baseline for vengeance, exhibited no differences in
levels of unforgiving. When women had to recall a similar offense in
relation to the other’s offense, women felt guilty and tended to magnify
the other’s offense.

“The gender difference is not anything that we predicted. We actually
got aggravated, because we kept getting it over and over again in our
studies,” said Exline. “We kept trying to explain it away, but it kept
repeating in the experiments.”

The John Templeton Foundation-supported studies used hypothetical
situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations
and surveys to study the ability to forgive.

Exline said prior studies have shown that at baseline (without any
interventions), men tend to be more vengeful than women, who have been
taught from childhood to put themselves “in the shoes of others” and
empathize with them.

In Exline’s study, women who recalled similar offenses of their own did
not show much difference in their levels of vengeance, in contrast to
men. Women, having been taught from an early age to be more empathetic,
lean toward relationship building and do not emphasize the vengeful side
of justice to the degree that men do.

The researchers found that people of both genders are more forgiving
when they see themselves as capable of committing a similar action to
the offender’s; it tends to make the offense seem smaller. Seeing
capability also increases empathic understanding of the offense and
causes people to feel more similar to the offenders. Each of these
factors, in turn, predicts more forgiving attitudes.

“Offenses are easier to forgive to the extent that they seem small and
understandable and when we see ourselves as similar or close to the
offender,” she said.

Exline found this ability to identify with the offender and forgive also
happens in intergroup conflicts in a study that she related to
forgiveness of the 9/11 terrorists.

“When people could envision their own government committing acts similar
to those of the terrorists, they were less vengeful,” she stressed. “For
example, they were less likely to believe that perpetrators should be
killed on the spot or given the death penalty, and they were more
supportive of negotiations and economic aid.”

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