May 16, 2023

Forgiveness Part 2 with Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, Dr. Man Yee Ho, Andrea Ortega Bechara & Dr. Shaun Joynt (podcast)

Researchers describe the impact of the largest-ever forgiveness study on individual participants and their communities.

By Templeton Staff

Dr. Everett Worthington's REACH forgiveness model has been proven effective in various contexts, but until recently, most approaches had required extensive sessions with trained therapists or counselors. In an effort to make forgiveness more accessible, a large study was conducted to determine if distilling the principles of the REACH model into a self-directed workbook could have similar effects. The advantage of a workbook is its potential for widespread dissemination, making it possible to promote forgiveness at a variety of scales. Led by Dr. Man Yee Ho of City University Hong Kong, this project was a collaboration between Dr. Tyler VanderWheele, the director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University, Dr. Worthington, and various researchers who served as site directors across diverse cultural and geographic contexts.

Listen to the podcast episode with the above player, as the researchers describe the impact of the largest-ever forgiveness study on individual participants and their communities, plans to scale the study, and who they consider an exemplar of forgiveness.

This podcast features:

Andrea Ortega Bechara, Site Leader of the study in Colombia.

Shaun Joynt, Site Leader of the study in South Africa.

Man Yee Ho, Site Leader of the study in Hong Kong.

Tyler VanderWheele, Director, Human Flourishing Program, Harvard University.

Everett Worthington, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus, Virginia Commonwealth University, Creator of the REACH model.

About the largest-ever scientific study on forgiveness 

About the study:

  • The largest-ever scientific study on forgiveness was conducted as a randomized control trial with 4,598 participants — more than all previous research on forgiveness interventions combined. The REACH workbook was translated into multiple languages: including Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Ukrainian, and Indonesian allowing two-thirds of the world's population to access it. The study was conducted across multiple sites, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Colombia, South Africa, and two locations in Ukraine, all areas that have experienced or are currently experiencing conflicts involving diverse religious, ethnic, or political groups.
  • Most studies to date are local, small, and address only one type of hurt. This study took into consideration anything people wanted to try to forgive, from small slights to grievous harms.
  • The findings firmly established that REACH was effective across all international sites, and by all participants, regardless of religion, sex, age, or ethnicity.
  • Forgiveness may have huge benefits for a person and for their relationships — even for their community — but the study also showed that it takes work, and consistent practice.

Insights from the researchers

  • Forgiveness involves two interconnected processes, shares Dr. Worthington. One is cognitive. One is emotional. Both contribute to societal and individual flourishing.
  • Dr. Ho highlights that forgiveness liberates the forgiver, enabling personal growth and flourishing. The ability to forgive allows individuals to navigate unpleasant and challenging life experiences while maintaining better psychological health. Forgiveness is crucial for fostering connections and relating to others, contributing to a flourishing life. The researchers' dream is to promote forgiveness globally by adopting this effective intervention.
  • Bechara emphasizes the cost-effectiveness and potential impact of delivering forgiveness interventions as community public health interventions. By reaching a large number of people, such interventions can create significant changes in mental health outcomes. The study clarifies the need for governments to prioritize public policies aimed at fostering forgiveness and peaceful coexistence, considering the current global challenges in living peacefully with oneself and others.
  • Dr. Shaun Joynt and Dr. VanderWheele emphasize the positive feedback loop between individual forgiveness and societal forgiveness. Forgiveness helps individuals flourish, and flourishing individuals are more likely to forgive.
  • All of the researchers stress: It is essential to clarify that forgiveness does not imply forgoing justice; one can pursue justice and forgiveness simultaneously.
  • Forgiveness, as a public health issue, requires tools and approaches to help individuals who struggle with forgiveness and want to embark on the journey, notes Dr. VanderWheele.
  • Dr. VanderWheele proposes future research should focus on understanding the persistence of forgiveness effects over time, beyond the initial two-week period observed in the study.

Listen to Part 1 of this 2-part podcast.

Watch the video related to this topic.

Find out more about the research project featured in this episode.

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by podcast producer, host, and writer, Tavia Gilbert. 

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.