By Brad Bell
Imagine that you wrote a short story for a writing contest. You had planned to go to the post office to mail the envelope with the short story in the afternoon. However, your boss gave you some unexpected work that needed to be completed. Thus, you were not able to go to the post office. A friend at work had agreed to take the envelope with the short story to the post office in the afternoon. However, the next day you learn that your friend failed to take the envelope to the post office. As a result, you did not meet the deadline for the writing contest. Would you be more likely to forgive your friend after two months than after a few days?
Wohl and McGrath (2007) investigated the influence of amount of time and subjective temporal distance on willingness to forgive someone. In their first experiment, participants read a hypothetical situation in which a friend failed to mail a job application for you before the deadline. In one condition, the participants learned that this happened about two years ago. In another condition, they learned that it happened about a month ago. On the average, people who read that it happened about two years ago indicated that they would be more willing to forgive the friend at the present point in time than the people who read that it happened about a month ago.
Their other two studies provided evidence that the subjective temporal distance of the negative event could influence willingness to forgive. In Experiment 3, participants were asked to describe an event that happened to them about a month ago. They manipulated the subjective temporal distance of the event by altering how one of the endpoints of the temporal distance line was labeled. On the average, participants in the subjectively distant condition indicated that they would be more willing to forgive the person at the present point in time than participants in the subjectively close condition. (1)
Implications for the Psychology of Forgiveness and Learning How to Forgive
People may be more willing to forgive someone for a transgression when the actual time since the event is greater, and when the perceived distance in time of the event is greater. Thus, the psychology of forgiveness suggests that learning how to forgive someone may partly involve time.
See their article for information on other findings.
Wohl, M. J. A., & McGrath, A. L. (2007). The perception of time heals all wounds: Temporal distance affects willingness to forgive following an interpersonal transgression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1023-1035.