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The freedom of unforgiveness


Psychology major endorses the grudge.

By Caitlyn Spencer

Fourth year psychology student Jessie Pow spent the summer researching unforgiveness with the help of a PURE grant.

The idea came when Pow took a course for which Masters student Rachel Ross was the TA. Ross’s own work on unforgiveness won the 2010 Kenneth Dion Award from the Canadian Psychological Association. “We got to talking,” Pow says. “I’d never thought about it before. Most of the research is on forgiveness – unforgiveness is a very new field.”

Through online and in person questionnaires, under the supervision of Ross and associate professor Susan Boon, Pow surveyed undergraduate students from the university, using the Department of Psychology’s Research Participation System. The system allows psychology undergrads to participate in University of Calgary research, giving them up to 2% bonus credits in psychology courses for their help.

Pow discovered that for some, not forgiving can be a positive experience. “It sometimes helps people feel like they have more control, more of an ability to feel closure after an interpersonal trangression” she explains. “Sometimes, not forgiving is freeing.”

Pow’s findings were in keeping with previous research that suggested close friends and family members are less forgiving than victims themselves. She also broke new ground with her discovery that they also feel more in control of whether or not to forgive than victims. Pow believes that victims’ residual positive feelings for offenders may affect the likelihood of their forgiving offenders.

For Pow, the opportunity to do research in the social sciences was a special draw. “I’m technically doing a science degree,” she says. “I’ve always liked social psychology, but I’ve never been able to take it. It’s great to be able to get another perspective, to expand my tools. If you only have a hammer, everything you see is a nail.”

Pow’s research has also helped her come to terms with unforgiveness in her own life. She hopes it may do the same for others. “Unforgiveness is something everyone experiences at some point,” she says. “We need more awareness of the fact that you can’t always forgive someone.”

Find out more about the Research Participation System. Pow’s research was possible thanks to the PURE grant program.