The ambiguity of a transgression and the type of apology influence immediate reactions

Leonard S. Newman, Lindsay R. Kraynak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Apologies with explicit acknowledgements of wrongdoing are especially likely to be well received. An implication of Trope's (1986) dual process model of social information processing is that this may not be so when interpersonal transgressions are ambiguous. In such cases, full apologies primarily serve to identify behaviors as affronts. In Study 1, participants read vignettes involving clear or ambiguous transgressions for which 1 of 3 alternative forms of apology were received by the wronged person: no apology, a full apology, or an expression of sympathy offered as partial apology. For clear transgressions, participants expected full apologies to soothe the wronged person more than either partial apologies or no apologies, but when transgressions were ambiguous, full apologies were considered to be less likely to ameliorate the wronged person's bad feelings than were partial apologies. In Study 2 we replicated the effect for ambiguous transgressions even when participants had the vignette presented to them as if they were in the role of the wronged person, and the results of Study 3 indicate that these findings are not an artifact of differences in conclusions about whether a transgression had actually taken place. Reactions to apologies are an interactive effect of the nature of the apology and the nature of the transgression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-46
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Behavior and Personality
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Apology
  • Insult
  • Interpersonal transgression
  • Social inference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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