Parsing the components of forgiveness: Psychological and neural mechanisms


Forgiveness―a shift in motivation away from retaliation and avoidance towards increased goodwill for the perceived wrongdoer―plays a vital role in restoring social relationships, and positively impacts personal wellbeing and society at large. Parsing the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of forgiveness contributes theoretical clarity, yet has remained an outstanding challenge because of conceptual and methodological difficulties in the field. Here, we critically examine the neuroscientific evidence in support of a theoretical framework which accounts for the proximate mechanisms underlying forgiveness. Specifically, we integrate empirical evidence from social psychology and neuroscience to propose that forgiveness relies on three distinct and interacting psychological macro-components: cognitive control, perspective taking, and social valuation. The implication of the lateral prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, respectively, is discussed in the brain networks subserving these distinct component processes. Finally, we outline some caveats that limit the translational value of existing social neuroscience research and provide directions for future research to advance the field of forgiveness.

Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews