Toward the bigger picture: Concrete and abstract thinking about a transgression, and the role of time in interpersonal forgiveness

Michael Wenzel, Anne Marie Coughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Rumination is commonly considered detrimental to forgiveness. In contrast, we propose that different forms of post-transgression thinking are differentially effective for forgiveness, depending on their timing. Concrete thinking focuses on event details, whereas abstract thinking abstracts from details and views the event in a broader context. Following construal level theory, we propose that concrete thinking is increasingly ill-matched, and abstract thinking better matched, to the construal abilities and motivation afforded by psychological distance. Hence, over time, concrete thinking would be negatively, and abstract thinking positively, associated with forgiveness. Two correlational recall studies, with time since transgression measured (Study 1) or manipulated (Study 2), demonstrated that with greater temporal distance concrete thinking was more negatively, and abstract thinking more positively, related to forgiveness. Study 3 employed a prospective-longitudinal methodology over five time-points; intra-individual decrease in concrete thinking and increase in abstract thinking over time were related to higher levels of forgiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-798
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Volume50
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Keywords

  • abstract thinking
  • concrete thinking
  • construal level
  • forgiveness
  • rumination
  • time

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