An apology, as an expression of remorse, can be an effective response from a transgressor to obtain forgiveness from a victim. Yet, to be effective, the victim should not construe the transgressor’s actions in a cynical way. Because low-power people tend to interpret the actions of high-power people in a cynical way, we argue that an apology (versus no apology) from high-power transgressors should be relatively ineffective in increasing forgiveness from low-power victims. We find support for this moderated mediation model in a critical incidents study (Study 1), a forced recall study (Study 2) among employees from various organizations and a controlled laboratory experiment among business students (Study 3).
These studies reveal the limited value of expressions of remorse by high-power people in promoting forgiveness.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Although previous research on apologies has shown that apologies can have many beneficial effects on victims' responses, the dyadic nature of the apology process has largely been ignored. As a consequence, very little is known about the congruence between perpetrators' willingness to apologize and victims' willingness to receive an apology. In three experimental studies we showed that victims mainly want to receive an apology after an intentional transgression, whereas perpetrators want to offer an apology particularly after an unintentional transgression. As expected, these divergent apologetic needs among victims and perpetrators were mediated by unique emotions: guilt among perpetrators and anger among victims. These results suggest that an apology serves very different goals among victims and perpetrators, thus pointing at an apology mismatch.