Current Psychology

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 10-20

First online:

“I’ve said I’m sorry, haven’t I?” A study of the identity implications and constraints that apologies create for their recipients

  • Mark BennettAffiliated withUniversity of Dundee
  • , Christopher DewberryAffiliated withDepartment of Occupational Psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London

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In contrast to previous research on apologies, which has examined their role in enhancing impressions of those issuing them (e.g., Darby and Schlenker, 1989), the research reported here draws upon Goffman’s (1955) analysis of the “corrective cycle” and is concerned with constraints associated with the receipt of apologies. Study 1 examines the implications for the actor of accepting, not accepting, or rejecting apologies. It is demonstrated that across a variety of judgments, most positive views of the actor result when apologies are accepted; least positive views are associated with their rejection. A follow-up study sought to establish whether this effect would occur under circumstances in which unconvincing apologies are rejected. Results indicate that the apology’s status (convincing versus unconvincing) has no bearing on perceptions of actors. Based on a hypothetical role-play format, Study 2 addresses the matter of whether actors experience a subjective sense of constraint upon receipt of unsatisfactory apologies. The data suggest that there exists a pronounced tendency to accept such apologies, though typically with conditions that would be specified to the offender. More general implications of the data are discussed.