News Release

Duke study links forgiveness to less back pain, depression

Forgiving nature benefits back

Peer-Reviewed Publication

John Templeton Foundation

A new study from Duke University Medical Center demonstrates that among people who have chronic back pain, those who have forgiven others experience lower levels of pain and less associated psychological problems like anger and depression than those who have not forgiven.

The findings will be presented at the Conference on Forgiveness in Atlanta October 24-25. To register, log on to the Press Room at

Carson, James: Correlates of Forgiveness & Preliminary Results from a Loving Kindness Meditation Intervention for Low Back Pain Patients

1. Discuss the value of fostering forgiveness among chronic pain patients.
2. Identify specific consistent relationships between measures of forgiveness and important aspects of living with persistent pain.
3. Recognize specific techniques for promoting forgiveness in medical patients.

This presentation will report data on baseline correlates of forgiveness and preliminary treatment outcomes among patients with persistent low back pain who are enrolled in a novel intervention study. Chronic pain is a medical condition which is particularly relevant to the investigation of forgiveness. Anger and resentment - about an offender perceived as causing or aggravating their condition, or related to the chronicity of their condition - are emotions that are salient features of many persons' chronic pain experience. Anger can be a major complicating factor in the treatment of persistent pain, and also negatively impact patients' interactions with family members, co-workers, and health care providers.

The overall purpose of this study is to explore whether a novel, positive emotion-oriented strategy - loving-kindness meditation, a centuries-old Buddhist approach to developing love and forgiveness - can foster forgiveness, reduce anger, and improve the pain and adjustment of these patients. Forgiveness in this context is understood as a person's act of deliberately giving up anger and resentment felt toward an offender, and fostering qualities of love, understanding, and compassion in their place. In this randomized controlled trial, patients are being assigned to the loving-kindness meditation protocol or a standard care control condition.

Findings will be reported on the baseline relationship of forgiveness to pain, anger, depression, and psychological distress among 58 patients. Taken together, these findings suggest that there is a strong and consistent relationship between forgiveness and important aspects of living with persistent pain, including pain itself and measures of adjustment.

Preliminary treatment outcomes based on data from the first 33 randomized patients will also be reported. To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate forgiveness in a medical population. Potential implications of our preliminary findings will be discussed, along with methodological issues in the study of forgiveness among medical patients.

Dr. Carson is Clinical Associate and Post Doctoral Fellow, Department of Pain Prevention and Treatment Research Program, Dept. of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center.


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