Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Sorry, not sorry: Effects of Different Types of Apologies and Self-Monitoring on Non-verbal Behaviors” by Yamamoto, K.; Kimura, M. y Osaka, M. (2021), in which authors carry out a laboratory experiment to see the differences between true apologies and fake apologies.

One of the topics studied with more interest within nonverbal language is deception detection. Inside this, which is very complex and extensive, we find apologies: is there a way to know when they are genuine and when they are false?

What we know for sure is that apologies serve the important social function of facilitating interpersonal forgiveness. However, they are not always effective. Whether or not you resolve the conflict generally depends on the perception of the apology: is it trustworthy, genuine, and sincere? Then, surely, it will be successfully accepted.

We can divide the apology into two types: on the one hand, we have the sincere apology, made from the heart, which requires feeling guilt, recognition and acceptance of responsibility; on the other hand, we have the instrumental apology, made with a purpose, such as avoiding punishment or rejection, without acknowledging guilt or accepting responsibility.

The latter do not resolve conflicts because the reasons of them are repeated over and over again when there is no acceptance of responsibility or awareness of guilt. However, these apologies can be helpful when it comes to simply appeasing the emotions of others, as may be the case with seller/server-customer relationships.

Regarding nonverbal behavior in apologies, several studies have shown that nonverbal displays of sadness and/or remorse facilitate the positive effects of apology more than smiling. Furthermore, they also reduce the negative feelings of the aggrieved part.

There is a social belief that looking away is a reliable indicator of deception but appears that the opposite is true. Experts have shown that people who lie make more eye contact than those who tell the truth, because they have the intention of appearing convincing. Taking this into account, and also the fact that the feeling of guilt typical of a genuine apology is related to the aversion of the gaze, authors consider that in instrumental apologies there will be greater eye contact.

On the other hand, authors investigate self-control. Individuals with a high level of self-control are more concerned with the adequacy of their social behavior according to the context in which they find themselves, so they are more likely to adapt their behavior according to the situation. In other words, it is logical to think that these people would find it easier to adjust their facial expression to simulate a genuine apology.

Authors conducted an experiment to explore all these questions. In it, they gathered a total of 53 people, assigning 27 of them to the condition of sincere apology and 26 to the condition of instrumental apology.

Participants were instructed to watch a video where a waiter offered a glass of water to a customer: it was spilled on the customer, making him angry. For those participants assigned to sincere apology status, it was the waiter’s fault. For those participants assigned to instrumental apology status, it was the client’s fault. Both types of participants were asked to represent an apology.

The first hypothesis that authors propose was that the aversion to the gaze was more likely to occur in a sincere apology than in an instrumental apology. In this regard, the results suggest that a person with high self-control tries to convey a sincere apology by maintaining greater eye contact, whether we are talking about a genuine apology or an instrumental apology.

On the other hand, authors hypothesized that instrumental apologies would facilitate longer lasting facial expressions than sincere apologies. This was one of the main ideas because numerous experts have shown that fake facial expressions last longer than those that are sincere.

Supporting this hypothesis, the results show a longer duration of expressions in the upper half of the face in instrumental apologies than in sincere apologies.

In a nutshell, people with high self-control and good public performance tried to convey an apology to the client by combining increased eye contact and facial displays of remorse, even though they did not feel guilty.

There are some limitations of the study, for example, the nonverbal behavior obtained in a role-playing game can be different from the spontaneous expression.

In addition to continuing to investigate this dynamic, authors recommend delving into issues such as how the burden of an instrumental apology affects the person who apologizes.

They also consider that the findings of this study are important to improve the relationship between salespeople or servers and customers, and also interpersonal relationships in general.


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