We assessed transgressors’ subjective emotions and physiological responses in a within-subjects imagery study involving 20 male and 20 female participants. Two imagery conditions focused on the transgressor’s actions: participants 1) ruminated about a real-life transgression and 2) imagined seeking forgiveness from the victim. Three imagery conditions focused on the victim’s possible responses: participants imagined their victims responding with 1) a grudge, 2) genuine forgiveness, and 3) reconciliation. Compared to ruminations about one’s transgression or an unforgiving response from the victim, imagery of forgiveness-seeking and merciful responses from victims (forgiveness and reconciliation) prompted improvements in basic emotions (e.g., sadness, anger) and moral emotions (e.g., guilt, shame, gratitude, hope), and greater perceived interpersonal forgiveness. Perceptions of self-forgiveness increased during forgiveness-seeking imagery, whereas perceptions of divine forgiveness increased during transgression-focused imagery. Imagery of victims’ merciful responses prompted less furrowing of the brow muscle (corrugator EMG) associated with negative emotion and more smiling activity (zygomatic EMG); imagery of forgivenessseeking affected only corrugator activity. Autonomic nervous system measures were largely unaffected by imagery, although skin conductance data suggested emotional disengagement when victims held grudges.
Witvliet, C.V.O., Ludwig, T.E., & Bauer, D.J. (2002). Please forgive me: Transgressors’ emotions and physiology during imagery of seeking forgiveness and victim responses. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 21, 219-233.