Apologies demanded yet devalued: Normative dilution in the age of apology
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Dramatic increases in the issuance of political apologies over the last two decades mean that we now live in the “age of apology”. But what does this surge in frequency mean for the effectiveness of intergroup apologies in promoting forgiveness? In the current research we propose a paradoxical “normative dilution” effect whereby behavioral norms increase the perceived appropriateness of an action while at the same time reducing its symbolic value. We experimentally manipulated the salience of the age-of-apology norm prior to assessing participant (N=128) reactions to past unjust treatment of ingroup prisoners of war by the Japanese during World War II. The apologetic norm increased victim group members’ desire for an apology in response to the harm. However, after reading the actual apology, the invocation of the norm decreased perceived apology sincerity and subsequent willingness to forgive. Thus, although apologetic trends may suggest greater contemporary interest in seeking reconciliation and harmony, their inflationary use risks devaluing apologies and undermining their effectiveness.
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