Most people would admit that at one time or another, they have been provoked in a way that made them want revenge. In fact, according to a 2010 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it is much easier to be consumed by thoughts of revenge than it is to forgive.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Ben Wilkowski, said he was motivated to do this study because his prior research showed that “individuals low in trait anger recruit cognitive control resources in hostile situations”. In other words, people who become angry more often are worse at employing cognitive control strategies; what Dr. Wilkowski defines as the resources needed to “override inappropriate thoughts, feelings, and desires”. The current study, then, was designed to explore more specifically how cognitive control in hostile situations would predict aggressiveness and forgiveness. As described by Dr. Wilkowski, “participants who showed evidence of recruiting cognitive control resources within hostile situations were more capable of setting aside the desire for revenge and of forgiving the person who angered them. By doing so, these individuals became less angry and less aggressive.”
The primary message of the study to Dr. Wilkowski is that forgiveness isn’t easy. He argues that “when someone has wronged you, it is all too easy to be consumed by the desire for revenge…. In the same way that balancing a checkbook or sticking to a strict diet requires psychological effort, so does forgiveness.”