The Neuroscience of Forgiveness: How Our Brain Process Forgiveness

Brain and forgiveness

For most of us, the brain and forgiveness, as an emotion, don’t quite match. But, the brain and forgiveness have many things in common. Even more, one can agree these two are very much codependent. In all honesty, forgiveness is the last thing we’d think of when someone does something really terrible to us. In the workplace, there would be a lot of conflicts from time to time because of failed projects, accidental wrongdoings, and internal conflicts. If you don’t practice forgiveness in business, then you’ll definitely be in for a lot of stress and frustration.

In fact, we can even approach this from a scientific point of view. Did you know that our body is affected when we don’t forgive someone and hold some sort of a grudge on them? Not only does forgiveness and the brain have a direct relation to each other but even health as a whole.

From a neuroscience point of view and even from a health point of view, it’s really more advantageous to always practice compassion and forgiveness in the workplace and even at home

The Brain’s Role in Moral Judgment and Forgiveness

First, let’s tackle the question of how do the brain and forgiveness work? Let’s say someone in your team messes up a business deal without intentionally doing it. The part of the brain that processes forgiving the team member is the anterior superior temporal sulcus. According to a study done by Trieste’s SISSA, the more grey matter you have in your brain, the higher the chances that you’d forgive your teammate.

There was also another interesting statement from the study made by the primary author Indrajeet Patil. Patil stated that when people make a judgment about an accident, they would usually focus more on the intention of the action rather than the action itself.

The team, led by Giorgia Silani, backed this through a survey of 50 participants given 36 stories with 4 potential scenarios. The participants were asked to react by using the 4 potential scenarios as choices. The conclusion of the study did confirm that the focus would be more on the intention. A person who messes up should take responsibility up to his or her intentions. This means that a person who intentionally messes up because of reasons that involve malice are less likely to be forgiven.

The team was able to confirm the results by scanning the participants’ brains as they received the scenarios. It was there that they discovered how grey matter indicates a possible forgiving behavior in a person.

How long does it take the brain to process forgiveness?

According to the study, the brain processes unintentional mess-ups very fast because of the forgiving nature people usually have if the mistake was done unintentionally. This correlates with what we have discussed about people who usually put the intention of the mistake as a top priority rather than the action itself.

The Brain and Forgiveness

So, what does happen if you practice compassion and forgiveness in the workplace or at home anyway?

First of all, your brain will no longer produce stress chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine. When the release of these chemicals, you’ll feel relief and relaxation. 

If you hold that grudge, your brain will keep producing cortisol and norepinephrine. These two chemicals used for fight or flight reactions. When this happens, you will no longer be able to think about that grudge naturally. You will just simply react and be stressed about it.

Not only will you experience more stress, but you’ll also experience poor memory recall. The hippocampus stores and processes memories. So, this makes it highly exposed to the cortisol levels in the brain. When the brain overproduces cortisol, it faces atrophy, which leads to poor memory.

This is why having a grudge against someone in the office is pretty dangerous because it can affect work. Once you’re consistently angry at someone for messing up, you yourself will become stressed and will have inhibited cognitive functions. That will affect your work performance. This is why you should always practice compassion and forgiveness in the workplace as well as forgiveness in business practices.

Of course, the benefits of forgiveness in business, at work, or even at home will also extend to other physical benefits. Some of these include:

  • Better blood circulation
  • Better cognitive functions
  • Fewer heart conditions
  • Less stress (higher dopamine level)

Science itself will tell you that forgiving in business, work, and every other aspect of life is beneficial. With that said, we can let go of the notion that forgiving means condoning a wrong thing. We can actually use forgiving to be healthier. All we have to do is expel stress and anxiety continually. Inevitably, holding a grudge will just make us more stressed out. It will also prompt us to face bigger health issues.

This is why it is crucial for us to start forgiving, regardless of the effects we have to suffer. Of course, forgiveness will enable you to let go of negative feelings and keep your mental health intact. Both the brain and forgiveness have plenty in common, but it’s all about allowing our mind to make forgiveness happen. 

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