Educational psychology professor Robert Enright joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” program last week to share his expertise about the scientific study of forgiveness.
Enright, who holds the Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology, spoke about decades of research that have shown offering forgiveness to others reduces clinical levels of anger and depression and raises self-esteem.
Enright published the first research on the scientific study of forgiveness in the 1980s and was recently lauded by the American Psychological Foundation as a “game changer” in modern psychology.
“The heroic nature of forgiveness is you try, even a little bit, to be good to that other person (who wronged you), and we find, through our science, that a lot of psychological well-being visits the one who is ready and willing and chooses to forgive,” he said on the 30-minute program.
Enright spoke about the concept of “agape love,” an ancient Greek concept that involves offering love to others when it is difficult to do so, and the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. He also outlined the findings of a clinical study he and colleagues conducted in the 1990s with incest survivors.
In that study, participants who underwent forgiveness therapy evolved, over the course of a year, from experiencing clinical levels of depression to a non-depressed status, he said.
“It shocked the scientific world,” Enright said of the results. “It was the strongest effect for incest ever recorded in the published literature.”
“That is just one example, among many, of people who have been brutalized by life, when they willingly choose to forgive, depression can go down, anxiety can go down, post-traumatic stress can go down, toxic anger can go down, and you know what goes up? Self-esteem.”
You can listen to Enright’s full interview with “Central Time” here.