How Powerful is an Apology?

Posted on March 25, 2017

It is almost an unspoken rule for us to apologise for our mistakes and wrongdoings. Many of us believe that an apology will help to “make things better” but research has shown that we have overestimated its power.

As seen in the study published in Psychology Science by Dutch psychologist David De Cremer and colleagues, receiving an apology is not as powerful as we would like it to be. In the study, participants had to play a trust game where they were each given €10. Participants were told that if they gave all the cash to their partner that they were paired up with, the cash would be tripled, and their partner would then decide how much of the €30 to share with them.

The partners, who were experimental insiders, only gave back €5 and it was supposed to make the participants feel cheated. Such a setup meant that the experimenters could effectively test the effects of an apology. From the experiment, only half the participants received an actual apology while the rest just imagined receiving one.

It turned out that when participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 how “reconciling” the apology was, participants who imagined the apology thought it would be an average of 5.3. Yet, those who actually received an apology gave it a 3.5.

Such results highlight that people often overestimate the value of an apology. A sincere apology restores the dignity of the victim as it acknowledges the breaking of social rules. However, people often over-estimate the work it can do to mend a relationship.

Moreover, what is interesting to note is that people are also less able to detect insincerity in apologies that are directed at them. This may be because we want to believe that the apology is sincere. Not only do insincere apologies fail to mend broken relationships, it will also adversely affect the relationship.

Putting aside insincere apologies, we should all note that sincere apologies do not go a long way in repairing relationships. Efforts of amendments would serve to be more meaningful in the long run.

Category(s):Friendships, Relationships & Marriage

Source material from Psyblog

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