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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

John L. Woodard

Abstract

The overarching goal of this dissertation was to examine the relationships between forgiveness and physical and emotional outcomes in older adults. Data for the analyses was from the Religion, Aging, and Health Survey, a nation wide probability survey of older adults. Data were collected at two time points separated by three years, wave 1(W1) in 2001 and wave 2 (W2) in 2003. The main outcome measures used in the analyses included four forgiveness scales (conditional forgiveness, unforgiveness, conditional forgiveness by God, and unforgiveness by self/others), five mental health measures (self-esteem, life-satisfaction, optimism, depression, feelings of control, rumination), a self-rated physical health measure, and a cardiovascular risk factor index.

The first aim of this study included investigating relationships between the four forgiveness domains and mental health variables. At W1 the conditional forgiveness scale was correlated with depression, life-satisfaction, self-esteem, and optimism; at W2 conditional forgiveness was correlated with self-esteem, control and optimism. At W1 and W2 unforgiveness was correlated with depression, life-satisfaction, self-esteem, control and optimism; W2 unforgiveness was correlated with rumination. At W1 conditional forgiveness by God was correlated with control; at W2 conditional forgiveness by God was correlated with life-satisfaction and control. At W1 unforgiveness by self/others was correlated with depression, life-satisfaction, and optimism; at W2 unforgiveness by self/others was correlated with depression, self-esteem, optimism, and rumination. Cross-lagged path analyses revealed that W1 unforgiveness predicted W2 mental health and W1 mental health predicted W2 conditional forgiveness by God. A series of hierarchical regressions, controlling for demographic variables, indicated that unforgiveness predicted three-year change in average optimism, average control and average life-satisfaction scores.

The second aim of this study included investigating relationships between the four forgiveness domains and physical health variables. W2 forgiveness was correlated with self-rated physical health and unforgiveness of self/others was correlated with the cardiovascular risk factor index. A series of hierarchical regressions, controlling for demographic variables and each mental health variable in turn indicated that unforgiveness predicted physical health, above and beyond self-esteem, optimism, depression, and control scores.

The third aim of this study included investigating the emotional juxtaposition hypothesis (EJH). Structural equation modeling revealed that a model that contained both direct paths from unforgiveness and forgiveness to physical heath, as well as indirect paths from unforgiveness and forgiveness to physical health via positive psychological adjustment and negative psychological adjustment was the best fit for the data. In general, our results were consistent with the EJH, however there were inverse relationships between both unforgiveness and forgiveness and physical health.

Results from our study indicate that there are connections between forgiveness domains and mental health and physical heath in a sample of older adults. Forgiveness was more consistently related to mental health variables, whereas unforgiveness was more consistently related to physical health variables. Implications of these findings are discussed.

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