A new study by researchers from Baylor University revealed that people are more likely to act forgivingly if they receive compensation, whilst they are more likely to forgive if they receive an apology.

The study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, highlights the importance of apology and restitution, as well as using various measures for forgiveness.

Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences said:

“One of the main reasons for using behavioral measures in addition to self-reporting by individuals is that they can make themselves look better by only self-reporting, although they don’t necessarily intend to lie. And it may be that ‘I forgive you’ is a more conscious feeling if they receive an apology.”

The study involved 136 undergraduate psychology students who were placed in individual cubicles, being informed that they would receive raffle tickets for a $50 gift card in three rounds of 10 tickets per round. The raffle tickets were to be divided between a participant and an unknown “partner.” The participants were also informed that they might receive a note from this partner. During the first round, the participants received only 2 of the 10 tickets that were to be split and in the second round they received 9 tickets with the explanation that some distributions were made by the ‘unknown’ partner, whilst others were told it was by chance.

On the second round, some participants received an apology note from their partners, which read: “Sorry about that first round. I got carried away, and I feel really bad that I did that,” whilst others received raffle tickets back from their partners as a form of restitution. The participants were given the opportunity to be in charge of the distribution in the last round.

The team assessed associations between apology, restitution, empathy and forgiveness, and measured forgiveness either by the participants’ behavior judged by how many raffle tickets they allocated to their partners in the third round and by self-reporting how highly the participants’ rated their motivation to forgive.

According to the researchers, “making amends can facilitative forgiveness, but not all amends can fully compensate for offenses.” They discovered that to fully repair the damage it would probably take an apology, but it may be a “silent forgiveness,” whilst compensating the partner without an accompanying apology could be a “hollow forgiveness” in which the offenders are treated better, yet not necessarily forgiven.

The researchers conclude:

“The results suggest that if transgressors seek both psychological and interpersonal forgiveness from their victims, they must pair their apologies with restitution. Apparently, actions and words speak loudest in concert.”

Written by Petra Rattue