Humans are inherently forgiving, which could explain why people stay in bad relationships and jobs, a study by Oxford University, Yale and University College London has found.
The research which was published in the Journal of Nature Human Behaviour showed that even when a person takes part in an immoral act, people are ready to dismiss their previous misgivings as soon as they behave correctly.
Assistant professor Molly Crockett, at Yale University, said: “The brain forms social impressions in a way that can enable forgiveness. “Because people sometimes behave badly by accident, we need to be able to update bad impressions that turn out to be mistaken.
“Otherwise, we might end relationships prematurely and miss out on the many benefits of social connection.”
In a series of experiments, more than 1,500 participants observed the choices of two strangers who faced a moral dilemma – whether to inflict painful electric shocks on another person in exchange for money.
While the ‘good’ stranger mostly refused to shock another person for money, the ‘bad’ stranger tended to maximise their profits despite the painful consequences.
The subjects were asked their impressions of the strangers’ moral character and how confident they were about those impressions.
The participants rapidly formed positive impressions of the good stranger, but were less confident in condemning the person making the immoral decisions.
And when the bad stranger occasionally made a generous choice, subjects’ impressions immediately improved – until they witnessed the stranger’s next transgression.
“The human mind is built for maintaining social relationships, even when partners sometimes behave badly,” said Prof Crockett.