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Brain Circuits Involved in Forgiving

There is emerging evidence that when we forgive, we improve our mental health. A recent brain imaging study has examined the neural pathways involved in forgiveness. The authors noted that forgiveness was strongly correlated to subjective relief.

A study by investigators at the University of Pisa, Italy (Ricciardi et al, 2013, Frontiers in Neuroscience) examined the neural circuits involved when one forgives.

The study participants were 10 healthy adults who were selected on account of their ability to visualize situations. Whilst in the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner, they were given 3 scenarios: a pre-hurtful condition (a neutral scene involving a meeting with their boss), a hurtful condition (unexpectedly the boss criticizes the participant’s work and fires them), and a forgiving response (forgiving the boss knowing that the participant never gave their best at work) or an unforgiving response (not forgiving the boss, harbouring a grudge and thinking of revenge). Each forgiveness request or unforgiveness request was accompanied by an additional comment resulting in reappraisal of the situation; either a positive re-evaluation in the case of the forgivness scenario or a negative re-evaluation. Cognitive reappraisal modifies the significance of events.

The main study finding was that the DLPFC (dorso lateral pre frontal cortex) region of the brain, is a “crucial node of a network of brain areas causally connected during forgiveness, which comprises the precuneus and the inferior parietal lobule.” The importance of the DLPFC in mood regulation is recognized. The authors found that the “capacity to grant forgiveness strongly correlated with subjective relief”. The authors call for more research  to be encouraged on the role of forgiveness in therapeutic settings.

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