Loren Toussaint
Loren Toussaint

To forgive freely is to live longer?

That may be so according to research by Loren Toussaint, associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Decorah. An article in the January issue of Psychology Today explains how Toussaint and his research team investigated relationships among forgiveness, religiousness, spirituality, health and mortality in a sample of 1,500 adults age 66 and older.

After controlling for religiosity, social class and health-related behaviors such as smoking and drinking, the research determined that people who require that certain conditions are met, for example an apology, before they can forgive tend to die sooner than those who forgive unconditionally.

"Though several studies have linked forgiveness to health, this is one of the first studies that specifically connects any aspect of forgiveness to mortality and it does so using a large, nationally representative sample of United States adults. So these findings should be reliable and generalizable to the older adult population," Toussaint said.

Toussaint's research colleagues were Luther alumnae Amy Owen, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Duke (University) Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, current program and planning analyst for the state of Wisconsin and Luther class of 1999; and Alyssa Cheadle, health psychology graduate student at the University of California Los Angeles and Luther class of 2008.

In addition to his professorship at Luther, Toussaint is the associate director of the Sierra Leone Forgiveness Project. He also served as a visiting scientist at the Mayo Clinic from 2009-10.

He has been published in a number of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and scientific book chapters, authored dozens of conference presentations and invited talks in Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Greece and the United States. His forgiveness research extends to Australia, Chile, Germany, India, Korea, Lithuania, Spain, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Switzerland.

Toussaint's work with forgiveness is expanding through his direction of the Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit (https://luther.edu/touslo01/laboratory/). The laboratory consists of a network of students, alumni, colleagues and friends of the laboratory that investigate the psycho-spiritual antecedents, correlates, and outcomes of health, with the primary topic of interest in forgiveness and health.

Recently the lab was awarded funding from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest for a project titled, "A Collaborative Scholarship Model for Liberal Arts Colleges: Applications for the Psychology of Forgiveness."