The Science Behind Second (And Third) Chances

Ever wondered why people stay in bad relationships or put up with their horrible boss or co-workers? The answer might be ingrained deep within us.

We’re all guilty of overlooking mistakes committed by our loved ones occasionally, but have you ever wondered why we give second chances to people who aren’t dear to us? Research conducted by scientists from Yale, University of Oxford, University College London, and the International School for Advanced Studies seems to indicate that it’s because we’re predisposed to forgive.

The Research

They conducted a series of experiments, the results of which were published in Nature Human Behaviour in September 2018. More than 1500 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. The stranger who was portrayed as ‘good’ mostly refused to shock another person for money, the one who was shown as ‘bad’ was more concerned about the money rather than the other person’s welfare. The subjects were then asked their impressions of the strangers’ moral character and how confident they were about those impressions.



The Results

The researchers found that the participants rapidly formed positive impressions of the good stranger and were highly confident of their impressions. However, they were far less confident in asserting that the bad stranger was truly bad, changing their minds frequently. This was even more apparent when the bad stranger occasionally made a generous choice—their impressions immediately improved until the bad stranger made yet another ‘bad’ choice.

Why This Happens

The researchers theorise that this happens based on how the brain forms social impressions. While good behaviour usually translates to positive impressions, the brain accounts for the possibility that bad behaviour might be an accident. This allows us to update our impression of the person later on, preventing us from ending a relationship prematurely and missing out on a potentially beneficial connection.

Yale psychologist Molly Crockett went on to say in a press release, “We think our findings reveal a basic predisposition towards giving others, even strangers, the benefit of the doubt. The human mind is built for maintaining social relationships, even when partners sometimes behave badly.”

So if you find yourself giving people more chances even though they might not deserve them, it might actually be because our brains are programmed to think that way!

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