IACM 2022 Abstract Book »
I'm sorry if you are: The risk of apologizing first
Apologies are powerful tools for reconciliation, so identifying barriers to apologizing can enhance long-term cooperation. Existing research on apologies leaves critical blind-spots by focusing on one-sided blame conflicts: We find that most unresolved conflicts involve mutual blame. Using a game theoretic framework, we highlight strategic considerations unique to mutual blame, identifying an unexplored apologizing barrier: the risk of not receiving a return apology. We propose that people expect the pain of apologizing first to be lessened when followed by a return apology, more so than when followed by forgiveness. We confirm these predictions across seven pre-registered studies including a game with incentives, event recall paradigms, and scenarios ranging from workplace conflicts to country-level ones. These findings underscore an unexplored avenue for research in conflict management.