Coping with an Interpersonal Transgression: The Impact of Brief Reappraisal, Acceptance, and Rumination Inductions on Forgiveness and Short-Term Emotions

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Lindsey Root Luna and Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet

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Previous research has demonstrated that emotion regulation strategies are beneficial in coping with negative events (Gross, 1998). For example, Witvliet, Knoll, Hinman, and DeYoung (2010) found that positive reappraisal reduced the negative impact of transgressions. In our study, we utilized a complex design to examine the impact of acceptance, reappraisal, and rumination between subjects over a two-week period. Undergraduate college students (N=98) recalled an interpersonal transgression from within the last year. Participants self-reported anxiety, depression, rumination, acceptance, satisfaction with life, and state forgiveness. During two visits, all participants ruminated and were randomly assigned to learn acceptance, positive reappraisal, or to ruminate again (control). Immediately following each imagery trial, participants completed self-report single items assessing positive (e.g., happiness, gratitude, peace, emotional and decisional forgiveness) and negative (e.g., sadness, anger) psychological experiences. Between participants mixed ANOVAs revealed that regardless of condition, from Visit 1 to Visit 2, participants experienced reductions in rumination, depression, and anxiety with increases in acceptance, forgiveness, and life satisfaction. We also found significant main effects of Visit and Trial, which demonstrated that participants reported increased positive experiences (e.g., gratitude, happiness, empathy, peace, forgiveness) and reduced negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger) during the second visit and during the intervention trial (compared to the rumination trial). A significant Trial X Intervention interaction effect occurred for gratitude, happiness, peace, forgiveness, valence, sadness, and anger. Confidence interval comparisons revealed that only the individuals who learned acceptance reported increases in gratitude, happiness, peace, empathy, and forgiveness, and decreases in sadness across trials. These results demonstrated that our interventions had differential short-term impacts. Overall, all participants benefited from thinking about the transgressions. While acceptance and reappraisal did not outperform intentionally dwelling on an interpersonal transgression, brief interventions—particularly acceptance—were beneficial for short-term coping with an interpersonal offense.


This research was supported by a 2013 Jacob E. Nyenhuis Student/Faculty Collaborative Summer Research Grant and a 2013 Carl Frost Center for Social Science Research Grant.

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