series of online experiments by a group of British scientists found
that high levels of forgiveness lead to lower levels of paranoia after a
personal transgression. In other words, people who forgive easily are
less likely to start believing that others are out to harm them after
they were mistreated. The study was published in the Journal of Personality.
is a personality trait that makes us prone to believe that others are
trying to harm as. At its heart is the belief that another person or
group are intentionally trying to cause us harm. Some see this as a
response to and a way of making sense of negative, unpleasant
experiences with others.
previous studies have identified a range of emotional responses to
mistreatment and transgression by others such as anger, low self-esteem,
anxiety, depression, but rarely paranoia. Early researchers of human
behavior considered paranoia a psychiatric symptom, but later studies
revealed that it represents a continuum, a trait present in all people
to a greater or a lesser degree.
on the other hand, is also a personality trait that, like paranoia,
involves interactions with other groups or individuals and also
represents ways in which an individual might respond to mistreatment.
Studies have linked it to various positive outcomes for individual
well-being. But does it affect paranoia?
study the effects of forgiveness on paranoia, Lyn Ellet and her
colleagues devised a series of three studies that they carried out on
samples of undergraduate students at a UK university. The first
experiment aimed to test whether suffering personal transgression
increases paranoia at that particular moment (so-called, state paranoia,
as opposed to paranoia as a lasting trait). They divided the students
randomly into two groups, one meant to suffer a personal transgression
and the other that would not.
experiment was based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game concept. In this
online experiment participants were made to believe that they are
playing a game with another player in which they could decide to
cooperate or compete with that player. At the start of the game, the
first group would “receive a message from the other player” suggesting
that they should both cooperate.
that, experimenters would show to the study participant that “the other
player” chose competition, even though he/she suggested to participant
that they should cooperate. Such behavior of the (fictitious) other
player represented a transgression. The other group went through the
game without such a transgression. After the game, the first group
scored higher on the state paranoia assessment (State Paranoia Scale).
second study was carried out in three phases. In the first phase,
participants completed an assessment of forgiveness (the Heartland
Forgiveness Scale, HFS). Three days later and then a week later, they
were asked to recall a pleasant and a difficult situation from the
previous week and to rate their state paranoia about those situations.
The results showed that higher levels of forgiveness were associated
with lower levels of paranoia and this was particularly pronounced for
state paranoia about difficult events.
goal of the third experiment was to explore whether the relationship
between forgiveness and paranoia is a cause-and-effect one or not. The
expectation of the researchers was that if they induced forgiveness
experimentally, this would produce a reduction in paranoia. To do that,
they asked a group of 102 student to complete a questionnaire that they
labelled “University of London Scale” and for which they told students
that it measures forgiveness.
then randomly divided students into two groups. Students in the first
group were told that their forgiveness scores were high and students in
the other group were told that their forgiveness scores were low.
Participants were then asked to explain their score. This was done to
strengthen the manipulation, make the students more convinced in the
validity of their (made-up scores) and to assess their forgiveness at
the very moment.
were then asked to complete an assessment of paranoia (Paranoia scale,
PS). Results showed that participants who were made to believe they are
forgiving had lower values on paranoia in this experiment, than
participants who were told they were not forgiving. Researchers conclude
that their expectation that forgiveness reduces paranoia is confirmed.
the study highlighted an important relationship between paranoia and
forgiveness, authors note that their sample consisted solely of
undergraduate students and this limits the generalizability of these
results. Additionally, most of the participants were female, white and
British. The study also relied solely on self-reports and it is unknown
whether using another assessment method would produce different results.
The study “Dispositional Forgiveness Buffers Paranoia Following Interpersonal Transgression” was authored by Lyn Ellet, Anna Foxall, Tim Wildschut and Paul Chadwick.