Does an official government apology really make amends?

March 26, 2008

In a series of studies, social psychology researchers Catherine Philpot and Matthew Hornsey, of Australia's University of Queensland, provided participants with information about transgressions and then reported to the non-control groups that the transgressions had been officially apologized for. The official apologies were perceived as effective in some ways but not in others. When an apology was made, the perception was that there was real remorse but also likely an ulterior motive for the apology. Even using more emotional language, usually associated with individual apologies, was no more effective at promoting forgiveness than the more formally issued apology.

"Intergroup apologies are frequently given and requested for all manner of intergroup offenses. However, the time is ripe for a systematic exploration of what effects intergroup apologies actually have," write the authors in the article. "An apology is not a magic wand that can be waved to heal wounds from the past but should be considered instead as one step in a long process of reconciliation."
The article, "What Happens When Groups Say Sorry: The Effect of Intergroup Apologies on Their Recipients," written by Catherine R. Philpot and Matthew J. Hornsey of the University of Queensland, Australia is available at no charge for a limited time at

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