How Important Is an Apology to You

The article How Important Is an Apology to You? Forecasting Errors in Evaluating the Value of Apologies includes three experiments, aimed to prove that people use to overestimate the value of apologies (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011).

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In the introduction, authors discuss the role of apology in the society. The authors state that we are taught to “graciously accept apologies” as well as offer them (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011). They state that “apologies serve several social functions” (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011). Apologies “represent an acknowledgment, that the social rules have been broken”, “reaffirm the legitimacy of those rules”, “restore the dignity of the victim”, and “facilitate the reconciliation between the transgressor and the victim”, “thus reestablishing normal social interaction and restoring social order”. Therefore, “not accepting an apology derails this process, which is why people assign so much importance to the gracious acceptance of an apology” (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011). Authors also indicate that some studies show that apologies are effective to achieve reconciliation, and the others show that they are not, especially when “they are perceived as insincere and strategic” (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011). As a result, the authors come to the main idea which is that “people may expect apologies to be more valuable and effective then they actually are” (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011).

There are three studies in the article: pilot study, study 1, and study 2. In pilot study, De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer (2011) predict that participants who only imagine being exploited and receive apology value apology more than those who are really exploited and after that really receive apology. The results of pilot study confirm the prediction.

In study 1, conditions change: all the participants meet the real transgression, and the apology for one group is imagined and for the other group is real. The results are the following: for those who receive the real apology, it is less valuable than for those who just imagine receiving one (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011). In study 2, researchers make the experiment over the trusting behavior of the participants. Authors want to discover “how imagining being exploited and receiving an apology, relative to actually being exploited and receiving an apology would affect participants’ allocations in a second trust game”. Results reveal that participants who really met transgression showed less trust behavior than those who just imagined the same situation (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011).

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The authors conclude that  people overestimate the value of apologies when they are asked to imagine receiving one; to have more value, an apology has to be combined with “other forms of amends” (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011).    

The main findings of the research do not fully explore the essence of apology.  Firstly, the experiment considers only the insincere apologies that really do not value much. Experiment is based on the fact that a participant is paired with another person. The participant receives from experimenters €10 and is offered to transfer these money to the partner knowing that this amount will be tripled. If the participant transfers, the partner receives the tripled money, €30. Then participant is told that his or her partner has given them €5 back. Then the participant receives a message from his partner. The partner apologizes for unfair giving back only €5. In the case, the participants are asked to imagine the same situation.

It is obvious that such an apology is insincere. In my opinion, when the one hears the word “apology”, he or she considers it as a sincere apology, which must be followed by the feasible compensation of harm. That is why people use to overestimate the value of apology.

Secondly, the experiment conducted by the authors of the article is not fully reliable since the main conclusions are developed from the experiment. As to me, there is no relationship between the value of apology when being received, or being imagined to be received and the statement that apology “must be combined with other forms of amends in order to be evaluated as valuable” (De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer, 2011).  

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Thirdly, in my opinion, people might be mistaken in their expectations. A person can never forecast the sequence of the future events unless he/she is a scientist or clairvoyant. Therefore, this type of situation discussed by the authors is very similar to the prisoner’s dilemma.   

To conclude, the experiment may be useful for the scientists and sociologists focused on apologies as a social phenomenon. However, the results of the experiment might not be very practical for the ordinary people that associate a sincere apology with value and do not value insincere one. Moreover, the experiment conducted by De Cremer, Pillutla, & Folmer (2011) is biased since considering the insincere apologies only.

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