ISU researcher to examine the basics of forgiveness; seeks volunteers for study

AMES, Iowa -- "To err is human, to forgive divine."

An Iowa State University psychology researcher is putting that old adage to the test.

Nathaniel Wade, assistant professor of counseling psychology, studies how people use the virtue of forgiveness to cope with interpersonal injuries. He is currently looking for people who are willing to be part of a new research study on overcoming anger and hurt.

"Forgiveness, as we understand it, is a useful but complicated process," Wade said. "It is often confused with condoning or excusing an offense or with reconciling with the offender."

Wade said many psychologists have investigated the means to minimize anger and limit excessive bitterness, but his research focuses on the resolution of anger and the promotion of forgiveness.

In his research project, Wade will examine the benefits of workshops intended to help people overcome grudges.

The four-week program will begin April 4 and involve four, 90-minute workshops with one group meeting on Mondays from 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. and a second on Saturdays from noon to 1:30 p.m. Participants will be in either Monday or Saturday sessions, not both. Trained facilitators will lead the workshops.

People who want to participate in the study should be able to recall a time that was hurtful and want to overcome that hurt. Each participant will be paid $25 for completing questionnaires and an evaluation of the experience. Adults of any age are welcome.

Similar private consulting workshops typically cost hundreds of dollars, Wade said.

"The most difficult part of true forgiveness is the ability to feel something positive for the offender - empathy, compassion or even pity -- and still make a wise decision about returning to that relationship," he said. "It is a two-step process: first, forgiving the injury and then, second, deciding whether to return to the relationship."

Psychologists who study forgiveness have typically used "forgiveness interventions" -- such as exercises to limit dwelling on the offense -- to help people deal with anger and hurt. However, Wade said early research shows that while such interventions are helpful, they may not be necessary.

"I'm investigating the effectiveness of forgiveness interventions in people who have been significantly hurt, but want to move past the bitterness," he said. "Initial evidence from a study of college-age students showed that common therapeutic factors such as listening, catharsis, and a therapeutic relationship might work just as well."

Now, Wade wants to repeat the study to find out if talking in a caring group is enough to help foster forgiveness.

"Age is certainly an issue, and older people may be able to forgive more quickly," he said. "Gender also is an issue because studies have shown that women are more forgiving than men, although women also report being hurt more frequently than men."

Wade has been researching forgiveness and interpersonal relationships for more than six years. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in psychology in 1994 from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill., and masters of science and doctor of philosophy, both in counseling psychology, in 2000 and 2003, respectively, from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.

For more information, visit To register for the program, contact Julia Meyer, research assistant, at (515) 294-1455 or by e-mail,