Gender role orientation and the role of empathy in interventions promoting the development of interpersonal forgiveness.

Goldman, Daniel
Major Professor
Nathaniel G. Wade
Committee Member
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Research over the past quarter-century has revealed a host of benefits associated with forgiving someone for a past hurt, such as reductions in anxiety and depression and increased satisfaction with life and subjective well-being. Despite these potential benefits, forgiving is difficult. As such, researchers and clinicians have examined the efficacy of therapeutic interventions that assist clients in developing forgiveness. Ultimately, such interventions are evaluated by their efficacy in successfully cultivating forgiveness and promoting well-being (e.g., reducing psychological symptoms).

The present experiment was conducted to understand the potential value of two group counseling interventions for individuals suffering the effects of a past hurt. In particular, this study sought to determine (a) whether some interventions are more effective than others at cultivating forgiveness; (b) whether individuals with masculine versus feminine gender role orientations will respond differently to these interventions; and (c) whether individuals with masculine gender role orientations in particular have unique needs when it comes to forgiving. The investigation was informed by the growing body of literature indicating that males and females often respond better to particular psychotherapy approaches (Ogrodniczuk, Piper, & Joyce, 2004; Ogrodniczuk, Piper, Joyce, & McCallum, 2001) and often demonstrate different forgiving styles (Wade & Goldman, 2006; Worthington & Lerner, 2006), as well as by speculation as to whether biological sex or gender roles account for more of the variance in individual differences commonly reported between males and females (Hunt, Lewars, Emslie, & Batty, 2007; Karniol, Gabay, Ochion, & Harari, 1998; Milovchevich, Howells, Drew, & Day, 2001).

Longitudinal data collected from 111 participants across three treatment conditions prior to and immediately following treatment revealed that participants in all treatment conditions tended to experience reductions in negative feelings and thoughts toward the transgressor. Only one treatment condition, however - an intervention based on Worthington's (2001) REACH model of forgiveness - led to increased forgiveness. Implications of this finding are discussed, as are limitations of the investigation and future research directions.