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Memory & Forgiveness

"Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is remembering without pain"

~ Celia Cruz

People who have suffered wrongdoings are often urged to “forgive and forget."


Forgetting the details of past experiences that elicit painful feelings of resentment, anger, and hate seems necessary in order to replace those negative feelings with more positive ones. However, remembering the details of past wrongdoing also seems necessary for forgiveness—if a person’s memory of a past offense were somehow deleted from her mind, we wouldn’t say that she had forgiven the offender.


Forgiveness, then, seems to require a contradiction: one must both remember and forget to forgive. How should we understand the precise relationship between forgiving and forgetting to resolve this paradox?

This project uses the tools of philosophy and

cross-cultural, experimental psychology to explore the relationship between

memory and forgiveness

Based upon the hypothesis that forgiveness prompts a psychological process of emotional reappraisal of memories for past wrongdoings, this project seeks to investigate the effects of forgiving on subsequent recollection of a past wrongdoing as well as the effects that different reappraisal techniques may have on people’s tendency to forgive offenses.


The empirical investigation will be conducted across three different populations:

a sample of direct victims of political violence from Montes de María, Colombia, an urban sample of indirect victims from Bogotá, Colombia, and a comparison sample from individuals in the United States. Clarifying the role that memory plays in forgiveness will not only advance our understanding of this notion, but it will also provide a solid empirical basis upon which to build a theory of forgiveness’ emotional change.

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