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Through forgiveness-seeking imagery

Please Forgive Me: Transgressors’ Emotions and Physiology During Imagery of Seeking Forgiveness and Victim Responses

Charlotte V. O. Witvliet, Thomas E. Ludwig, David J Bauer

Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 2002

Research details

Type of paper: Primary Empirical Study

Sample size: 40

Open Access: Yes


We assessed transgressors’ (20 male, 20 female) subjective emotions and physiological responses in two complementary within-subjects imagery studies. In Study I, participants ruminated about a real-life transgression and imagined seeking forgiveness from the victim. In Study II, participants imagined their victims responding with a grudge, with genuine forgiveness, and with reconciliation. Imagery of forgiveness-seeking behaviors (Study I) and merciful responses from victims (forgiveness and reconciliation in Study II) prompted greater perceived interpersonal forgiveness, improved basic emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, fear) and moral emotions (e.g., guilt, shame, gratitude, empathy, hope), as well as less furrowing of the brow muscle (corrugator) compared to ruminations about one’s real-life transgression (Study I) or an unforgiving response from the victim (Study II). Autonomic nervous system measures (heart rate, skin conductance levels) were largely unaffected by imagery. In Study II, smiling activity (zygomatic EMG) increased more when imagining victims’ merciful versus begrudging responses. In Study I, participants reported higher self-forgiveness during forgiveness-seeking imagery, but perceived greater divine forgiveness during transgression-focused imagery.