The buffering effect of forgiveness on cardiovascular reactivity & recovery
Friedberg, Jennifer P.
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Research has suggested that forgiveness is negatively correlated with poor health and, in particular, cardiovascular reactivity (CVR). Although the mechanisms of the link between forgiveness and cardiovascular health are not clear, rumination is a potential mediating factor in this relationship. In the current study, it was hypothesized that forgiveness would be predictive of reduced CVR and faster cardiovascular recovery from stress, that rumination would be predictive of increased levels of CVR and delayed recovery, and that rumination would mediate the relationship between forgiveness and recovery. Ninety-two normotensive medical school students and staff (mean age=33.7 years; 85.9% female) participated in the current study. Cardiovascular parameters were obtained at 2-minute intervals during a 10-minute baseline period and a 20-minute recovery period, and at 1-minute intervals during a 4-minute anger recall task and a 4-minute serial subtraction task without harassment. Participants filled out two self-report measures of forgiveness prior to the laboratory procedure, and filled out a questionnaire assessing the degree to which they ruminated about the anger recall task during the recovery period following the procedure. Higher levels of trait forgiveness were predictive of lower diastolic blood pressure at baseline (p<.03), lower levels of cardiac output reactivity during the serial subtraction task (p<.05), and faster stroke volume (p<.05), total peripheral resistance (p<.03), and Heather Index (p<.05) recovery from stress. Higher levels of rumination during the recovery period were predictive of higher heart rate (p<.004), systolic (p<.04), and diastolic (p<.02) blood pressure reactivity during the anger recall task. Rumination was only related to recovery among participants who received the anger recall task second, and therefore directly before the recovery period, suggesting that the serial subtraction task served as a distraction from rumination for that subset of participants. Results indicate that forgiveness may be cardioprotective, while rumination may be related to increased cardiovascular risk. Although forgiveness and rumination had an inverse relationship, rumination did not mediate the relationship between forgiveness and cardiovascular response. Findings suggest that the pathway by which forgiveness affects health may be more complex than first believed, and may include such factors as hostility, empathy, and social support.
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