Self-control during adolescence predicts a tendency to forgive others in adulthood, a study finds


Self-control during adolescence predicts a tendency to forgive others in adulthood, a study finds

People with greater self-control during adolescence tend to be more forgiving as adults, according to a new study published in Personality Magazine.

“I am interested in the predictive power of personality changes. Research has consistently shown that personality traits such as conscientiousness or self-control predict important life outcomes such as education, work and relationship success, well-being, health and longevity,” said study author Mathias Allemand, assistant professor at the University of Zurich.

“Furthermore, empirical evidence is accumulating that personality traits can and do change across the lifespan, and that the changes vary from person to person. Therefore, it is exciting to investigate whether changes in personality predict important life outcomes beyond the level of personality traits. I am also interested in the developmental precursors to adult forgiveness.”

“The tendency or willingness to forgive others, a trait-like trait, is an important construct in the context of living together in social relationships and society because it helps maintain important relationships and is associated with individual and social well-being. We already know from cross-sectional work that greater self-control is associated with greater forgiveness. But whether a change in self-control is related to forgiveness over the long term has never been studied.”

For their study, Allemand and his colleagues examined data from 1,350 participants in the German Life Study.

Self-control was assessed five times during adolescence: at ages 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. “Some youth started out with low self-control scores and then showed an increase. For others, self-control was higher in early adolescence and continued to increase as adolescence progressed. Finally, others changed little or even showed a decrease in self-control,” noted Allemand.

When the participants were 45 years old, they underwent a follow-up visit that included a measure of forgiveness.

The researchers found that self-control in adolescence was positively related to the tendency to forgive others in mid-adulthood. In other words, participants who disagreeing with statements like “I feel like I have a rather weak will” and “I often give up at the first sign of trouble” in adolescence agree with statements like “I tend to get over it quickly when someone hurts my feelings” and “When people wrong me, my approach is to just forgive and forget” at the age of 45.

“We found that changes in self-control during adolescence are relevant to the tendency or willingness to forgive others in midlife,” Allemand told PsyPost. “Higher self-control in early adolescence and increases during adolescence were associated with greater willingness to forgive others. At the same time, lower scores and a decrease in self-control were associated with less forgiveness.”

Researchers controlled for factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, and behavioral problems in adolescence. But the study, like all research, comes with some limitations.

“Because self-control in adolescence and forgiveness in midlife have only been assessed using self-reports, future research that uses a multi-method approach, such as B. Observer reports of self-control and behavioral observation of the tendency to forgive others,” Allemand explained.

“Another limitation of our study was that forgiveness was only assessed in midlife, but not in earlier stages of life. That is, we have no information on the extent to which differences in forgiveness existed in adolescence and how they develop in adolescence. But because of the study’s unique longitudinal design, which spans more than 30 years, we cannot simply quickly conduct a follow-up study with such a long time interval and even more assessments to replicate the results.”

“However, the fundamental question of whether personality changes can predict important outcomes beyond the level remains relevant for future research,” Allemand continued. “Although adolescence is an important developmental window to study developmental processes that may impact adulthood, it would also be important to study the long-term implications of developmental processes at other stages of life: How do personality changes in mid-adulthood contribute to successful aging? What are the developmental requirements for active and healthy aging?”

The study “Self-Control in Adolescence Predicts Forgivingness in Middle Adulthood” was authored by Mathias Allemand, Andrea E. Grünenfelder-Steiger, Helmut A. Fend and Patrick L. Hill.

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