Apologies Don't Work Very Well Apologies Don't Work Very Well
Culture

Apologies Don't Work Very Well

by Cord Jefferson

January 29, 2011

According to a new study published in this month's issue of Psychological Science, apologies are decent mile-markers in people's arguments but they don't really make the receivers feel much better.

Using a test in which subjects were slighted by being shorted money, researchers were able to ascertain that people who imagined getting an apology from their betrayers were notably happier than people who actually got an apology. What's more, those who envisioned apologies themselves were more likely than counterparts who'd received an apology to trust their partners in a subsequent test. In essence, soothing yourself works great, but relying on others to soothe you is a bad idea.

"The expectations for an apology to make us feel better and even forget about the bad things that have happened are overestimated," says study co-author David De Cremer of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. "In light of fraud cases, the financial crisis, the moral escalation that people seem to witness in contemporary society, there is a cry for apologies, such that we seem to live in an apology culture."

The only consistent real benefit to apologies, the study found, is that they are reliable ways to restore social order. Apologies and the acceptance of apologies are largely a scripted dance in today's society, so people often feel compelled to go along with them whether or not they honestly feel better about anything.

Maybe we should focus on sincerity more than simply whether or not someone says the words "I'm sorry."

photo (cc) via Flickr user butupa

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Apologies Don't Work Very Well