On the (Un)intended Consequences of Forgiveness: Creativity After Conflict

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Fehr, Ryan
Gelfand, Michele J
Within the psychological and organizational sciences, research on forgiveness as an offender-directed motivational response to victimization is flourishing. Scholars have drawn from a wide range of theoretical perspectives to better understand the meaning of forgiveness and the antecedents of victims' forgiving motivations. Underlying this research is a near-unanimous assumption that forgiveness leads to beneficial outcomes, which has paradoxically hampered scholars' understanding of the precise nature of those benefits. The purpose of the current research is to consider a previously unforeseen yet broadly significant potential consequence of forgiveness - creativity. Drawing from evolutionary process models of creative performance (Simonton, 1999; 2003), forgiveness is theorized to impact creativity by broadening the set of ideas, concepts, and knowledge structures utilized during the creative process, referred to collectively as the participant's "domain set". Specifically, forgiveness and creativity are theoretically linked via three distinct mechanisms: mood, motivation, and cognitive resources. Two pilot studies were conducted to ensure the efficacy of a forgiveness priming procedure and explore a theoretically consistent set of lab-based creative performance measures. Three primary studies were subsequently conducted to fully test the effect of forgiveness on creative performance and the theorized mediating mechanisms. In Study 1, a brainstorming task was utilized to provide initial support for the forgiveness-creativity link and the role of domain set over simple task persistence. Mood was furthermore measured as a mediating mechanism. Study 2 replicated and extended the Study 1 findings via a different creativity task (creative drawing) and tests of both mood and motivation as potential mediators. In Study 3, further evidence for a forgiveness-creativity effect was sought via a creative problem solving exercise (the Duncker candle task). Mood and motivation were again measured as mediators. In addition, the cognitive resource theory was explored via the addition of a cognitive load manipulation. Results cumulatively supported the cognitive resource perspective. In all three studies, forgiveness predicted creative performance. The forgiveness-creativity link disappeared under cognitive load (Study 3), but was unrelated to victim mood (Studies 1-3) or motivation (Studies 2 and 3). In the discussion section, theoretical and practical implications are reviewed along with limitations and potential future directions.