In 1998, Laura Yamhure Thompson was a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas. As she considered areas of research for her dissertation and future career, she asked the director of her graduate program, C. R. Snyder, for advice. At the end of their meeting, Dr. Snyder handed Laura Yamhure Thompson a copy of a call for applications for grants to study forgiveness, and he suggested that she consider it.
The grants were being awarded by The John Templeton Foundation, which had begun A Campaign for Forgiveness Research. This campaign was a competition intended to spur scientific study of forgiveness. Under the leadership of Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ruby Bridges Hall, and Robert Coles, M.D., the John Templeton Foundation and other donors eventually contributed over 7 million dollars to this campaign.
After her conversation with Dr. Snyder, Laura Yamhure Thompson found it impossible to sleep that night. The topic was so interesting, uplifting, and profound to her that she wrote well into the next day about her thoughts regarding a psychological model and definition of forgiveness. When she presented her ideas to Dr. Snyder, he, in his characteristically optimistic and magnanimous manner, suggested that the two of them apply for a three-year grant to study forgiveness.
C. R. Snyder and Laura Yamhure Thompson named their proposed research program The Heartland Forgiveness Project. In 1998, A Campaign for Forgiveness Research awarded The Heartland Forgiveness Project a three-year grant, which was subsequently extended for a fourth year. The funds for the grant were provided by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, and other donors. Lesa Hoffman joined the Heartland Forgiveness Project in 2000. She assisted with statistical analysis and research design. Her quantitative expertise was invaluable to the project.
The Heartland Forgiveness Project was a program of research that was designed to study a model of forgiveness using a new measure of forgiveness, the Heartland Forgiveness Scale (HFS). The HFS and the results of six studies from the Heartland Forgiveness Project were published in the Journal of Personality in April of 2005.
The Heartland Forgiveness Scale is based on the following definition and model of forgiveness. Forgiveness is defined as:
the framing of a perceived transgression such that one’s responses to the transgressor, transgression, and sequelae of the transgression are transformed from negative to neutral or positive. The source of a transgression, and therefore the object of forgiveness, may be oneself, another person or persons, or a situation that one views as being beyond anyone’s control (e.g., an illness, “fate,” or a natural disaster). (Thompson et al., 2005, p. 318).
The process of forgiveness, transforms a person’s responses to the transgressor, transgression, and the negative consequences (i.e., the sequelae) of the transgression. Responses are a person’s transgression- and transgressor-related thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The concept of responses has two components, valence and strength. Valence refers to whether the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are negative, neutral, or positive. Strength refers to the intensity and intrusiveness of the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, and it can vary as a result of factors such as the perceived harm caused by the transgression.
A person who forgives may transform his or her negative responses by
- changing the valence from negative to either neutral or positive, or
- changing both the valence and strength of the responses.
In order to forgive, the valence of a person’s responses must change, at least to neutral. Some argue that in order to forgive, a person must develop compassion and empathy for the transgressor. In the model of forgiveness upon which the HFS is based, it is not necessary to develop positive responses such as compassion and empathy. Neutral responses are considered sufficient for forgiveness.
It is not necessary for a person to change the strength of his or her responses in order to forgive. Nonetheless, weakening one’s responses may foster forgiveness because it decreases the intrusiveness or intensity of negative transgression-related thoughts or feelings. Thus, weakening of responses may be involved when people report that “time” has helped them to forgive.
The inclusion of “situations” as a potential source of transgressions (and target of forgiveness) appears to be unique to this conceptualization of forgiveness, and to the Heartland Forgiveness Scale. Situations that violate people’s positive assumptions and lead to negative responses to those situations are responded to as transgressions. For example, a catastrophic illness might violate a person’s assumptions of invulnerability or meaningfulness (e.g., “I’m healthy” and “bad things don’t happen to good people for no reason”), and lead to negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors about the illness and related sequelae (e.g., feelings of anger or sadness and the thoughts “this has ruined my life; I don’t deserve this”).
The Heartland Forgiveness Scale (HFS):
- Measures a person’s dispositional forgiveness of self, others, and situations beyond anyone’s control (e.g., a natural disaster or illness).
- Is a self-report questionnaire.
- Can be completed with paper and pencil or on the computer.
- Has 18 items.
- Consists of the Total HFS and 3 subscales:
- Total HFS (18 items)
- Forgiveness of Self (6 items)
- Forgiveness of Others (6 items)
- Forgiveness of Situations (6 items)
- Has demonstrated desirable psychometric properties.
- Convergent validity
- Satisfactory internal consistency reliability
- Strong test-retest reliability
- A clear and consistent factor structure that supports the assertion that the HFS assesses forgiveness of self, others, and situations, and also the overarching construct of the disposition to grant forgiveness
HFS Citation and Abstract
Thompson, L. Y., Snyder, C. R., Hoffman, L., Michael, S. T., Rasmussen, H. N., Billings, L. S., Heinze, L., Neufeld, J. E., Shorey, H. S., Roberts, J. C, & Roberts, D. E. (2005). Dispositional forgiveness of self, others, and situations. Journal of Personality, 73, 313-359.
Six studies regarding forgiveness are presented. The Heartland Forgiveness Scale (HFS), a self-report measure of dispositional forgiveness (with subscales to assess forgiveness of self, others, and situations) was developed and demonstrated good psychometric properties. Forgiveness correlated positively with cognitive flexibility, positive affect, and distraction; it correlated negatively with rumination, vengeance, and hostility. Forgiveness predicted four components of psychological well-being (anger, anxiety, depression, and satisfaction with life); forgiveness of situations accounted for unique variance in these components of psychological well-being. Forgiveness and hostility demonstrated equivalent, inverse associations with relationship duration, and forgiveness accounted for unique variance in relationship satisfaction, even when controlling for trust. Forgiveness level correlated positively with decreased negativity in statements written about transgressions in the present versus the past tense.
LAURA YAMHURE THOMPSON, PH.D.
Laura Yamhure Thompson received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas in 2003. She completed a pre-doctoral fellowship at McLean Hospital and the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry, and a postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance and the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. She was awarded a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for her research regarding forgiveness as a moderator of the relationship between stress and psoriasis severity. She and her mentor, C. R. Snyder, collaborated on the Heartland Forgiveness Project, a program of research to develop a model, definition, and measure of forgiveness (i.e., the Heartland Forgiveness Scale). She is currently a licensed psychologist in the state of Hawaii.
C. R. (RICK) SNYDER, PH.D.
C. R. Snyder (1944-2006) was Wright Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and he was editor of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology for 12 years. Well known for his work at the interface of clinical, social, personality, and health psychology, his theories pertained to how people react to personal feedback, the human need for uniqueness, the drive to excuse transgressions, and the hope motive. One of the foremost researchers studying positive psychology, he developed the field of hope into a self-sustaining field of study. His prominence as a researcher in the area of positive psychology was indispensable in the creation and funding of the Heartland Forgiveness Project. Dr. Snyder was a mentor to Laura Yamhure Thompson and countless others in the field of psychology. He is dearly missed.
LESA HOFFMAN, PH.D.
Lesa Hoffman received her Ph.D. in Cognitive and Quantitative Psychology at the University of Kansas in 2003, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Penn State University. In the fall of 2006, she joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Psychology. Lesa Hoffman was the quantitative specialist for the Heartland Forgiveness Project. The focus of her current research is the integration of advanced quantitative methods (e.g., multilevel, structural equation, and item response modeling) to the examination of psychological and developmental processes, particularly within the study of cognitive aging. Recent projects have focused on the role of visual attention in predicting impairment in older drivers, the methodological barriers to examining longitudinal changes in cognition, and innovation applications of multilevel modeling for within-person designs. She teaches graduate courses in quantitative methods, such as latent trait measurement models, multilevel models for longitudinal data, and advanced multilevel models.