June 23, 2022
By Laurel White
Decades of pioneering work on the vast personal and social benefits of forgiveness – from reducing individual anxiety and aggression to promoting better cross-cultural communication in the midst of political conflict – have earned Robert Enright from UW-Madison one of psychology’s rarest and highest lifetime achievement awards.
Enright’s scientific study of forgiveness had a “revolutionary impact on the field of psychology,” according to the American Psychological Foundation. The foundation, a branch of the American Psychological Association, awarded Enright the 2022 American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal for Impact in Psychology. The prize has already been awarded to giants in the field of psychology, including Evelyn Hooker, whose work prompted the removal of homosexuality from the industry textbook on mental health disorders, and David Barlow, who developed new methods of treating anxiety that are now staples of mental health. healthcare around the world.
“I’m not a game changer,” said Enright, Aristotelian Chair in the Science of Forgiveness in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology. “Forgiveness is just that.”
Enright, who has been on the faculty at UW-Madison since 1978, wrote the first scholarly paper on person-to-person forgiveness and the first cross-cultural studies of interpersonal forgiveness. Over the past four decades, his work has produced widely used models for forgiveness therapy and curriculum guides that have been used in at least 30 countries. He is a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, with nominations from more than a dozen individuals and entities in the United States and abroad.
He is also the founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, a Madison-based nonprofit that has worked to expand the scope of forgiveness research since 1994.
James Wollack, chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, hailed Enright as a true “pioneer” in his field.
“Bob’s work has directly led to improved mental, emotional and physical health outcomes for millions – if not tens of millions – of people participating in research studies and therapeutic and educational programs around the world. “Wollack said. “It focused on the most vulnerable populations – war-ravaged communities and those suffering from personal trauma – and reached citizens around the world. Bob is truly a pioneer, and his work is one of the finest examples of the Wisconsin Idea we have seen.
Wollack also noted that Enright had already received three of UW-Madison’s highest honors: the Hilldale Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching, and Service, the WARF Appointed Professorship, and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching.
Enright said his initial scholarly work on forgiveness was dismissed by some peers as “too weak or irrelevant for scientific inquiry.”
“Now there are thousands of researchers studying forgiveness and many thousands of mental health professionals integrating forgiveness therapy into their practices,” he said. “I’m so glad I persevered, and now I encourage those just starting out in their careers to persevere if they find a subject, no matter what the critics say, that seems important enough to improve the human condition.”