Embodied Remorse: Physical Displays of Remorse Increase Positive Responses to Public Apologies, but Have Negligible Effects on Forgiveness

Matthew J. Hornsey, Michael J.A. Wohl, Emily A. Harris, Tyler G. Okimoto, Michael Thai, Michael Wenzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Public apologies struggle to communicate genuineness. Previous studies have shown that, in response to public apologies, perceptions of remorse and levels of forgiveness are often low, while skepticism about motive is high. Furthermore, attempts to reduce mistrust of public apologies by manipulating the verbal component of the message have had limited success. Across 6 studies (combined N = 3,818), we examined whether people respond more positively to public apologies if the apologies are accompanied by nonverbal demonstrations of remorse: operationalized as kneeling (Studies 1 and 6) and crying (Studies 2-5). Overall, embodied remorse had small-to-medium effects on perceived remorse, and through this relationship had reliable effects on perceived likelihood of reoffending, empathy, positive appraisals of the transgressor, and satisfaction with the apology. Positive effects of embodiment emerged regardless of whether transgressions were committed by a collective (Studies 1, 2, and 6) or an individual (Studies 3-5), and were equally strong regardless of whether or not the transgressor issued an apology (Studies 4 and 5). Furthermore, embodied remorse appeared to lie beyond suspicion: if anything, those low in dispositional trust were more positively influenced by embodied remorse than those high in dispositional trust. Despite all these positive effects, embodied remorse did not have a significant effect on forgiveness in any of the studies, and an internal meta-analysis revealed a significant effect that was of negligible size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-389
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume119
Issue number2
Early online date12 Sep 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Sep 2019

Keywords

  • Apologies
  • Embodied
  • Forgiveness
  • Trust

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