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Better Late Than Early: The Influence of Timing on Apology Effectiveness

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Two studies examined whether the timing of an apology influences its effectiveness. We hypothesized that victims who received apologies later in a conflict would feel more satisfied with the resolution of the conflict, primarily because they would have more opportunity for self-expression and would feel better understood. Undergraduates provided retrospective interpersonal conflict narratives (Study 1) and responded to a hypothetical scenario (Study 2) in which they were wronged. The results showed that later apologies were more effective than earlier ones, and that this effect was mediated by feeling heard and understood. The ramifications for creating a “ripeness” or readiness for conflict resolution are discussed.
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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207
www.elsevier.com/locate/jesp
0022-1031/$ - see front matter 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2004.07.007
Better late than early: The inXuence of timing on apology
eVectiveness
Cynthia McPherson Frantza,¤,1, Courtney Bennigsonb
a Amherst College, United States
b Williams College, United States
Received 27 September 2001; revised 18 June 2004
Available online 18 November 2004
Abstract
Two studies examined whether the timing of an apology inXuences its eVectiveness. We hypothesized that victims who received
apologies later in a conXict would feel more satisWed with the resolution of the conXict, primarily because they would have more
opportunity for self-expression and would feel better understood. Undergraduates provided retrospective interpersonal conXict nar-
ratives (Study 1) and responded to a hypothetical scenario (Study 2) in which they were wronged. The results showed that later apol-
ogies were more eVective than earlier ones, and that this eVect was mediated by feeling heard and understood. The ramiWcations for
creating a “ripeness” or readiness for conXict resolution are discussed.
2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Apologies are the world’s most basic and pervasive
conXict resolution technique. Among marriage partners,
friends, business associates, and nations, apologies
attempt to right wrongs and wipe the slate clean, thus
serving a crucial social lubrication role. In a sense, apol-
ogies are magical—they transform an act from some-
thing oVensive into something acceptable (GoVman,
1971). In his classic work, Relations in Public, GoVman
argued that through an apology “ƒ an individual splits
himself into two parts, the part that is guilty of an
oVense and the part that dissociates itself from the [tran-
gression] and aYrms a belief in the oVended rule.” (GoV-
man, 1971, p. 113). The oVender thus admits blame, but
at the same time shows that he or she may be worthy of a
second chance.
Research supports the notion that apologies achieve
this transformation and thereby reduce or resolve inter-
personal conXict. For example, Ohbuchi, Kameda, and
Agarie (1989) found that victims had better impressions
of an oVender, felt less angry, and were less aggressive
when they received an apology. And McCullough et al.
(1998) found that apologies were associated with greater
empathy for an oVender, less avoidance and revenge
among victims, and greater closeness between and
oVender and a victim. In the business domain, Goodwin
and Ross (1992) found that apologies from companies
enhanced consumers’ satisfaction and the perceived fair-
ness of responses to service failures.
But as we know from personal experience, all apolo-
gies are not created equal. What distinguishes a good
apology from a poor one? Advice on giving apologies
can be found in a wide range of sources, including eti-
quette manuals (Sugimoto, 1998), scholarly work on
therapeutic practice (e.g., Mitchell, 1989) and practical
guides on mediation and conXict resolution (e.g., Rubin,
Pruitt, & Kim, 1994; Schneider, 2000). Two common
issues that emerge from this work are timing and sincer-
ity. For example, Rubin et al. (1994, p. 165) noted that
The authors thank Molly Burnett, Sarah Zilzer, Dick Moreland,
and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on earlier
drafts of this article.
*Corresponding author.
E-mail address: Cindy.Frantz@oberlin.edu (C.M. Frantz).
1Present address: Severance Hall, Department of Psychology,
Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH 44074, United States.
202 C.M. Frantz, C. Bennigson / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207
“ƒif improperly timed or meant insincerely, an apology
can arouse suspicion on the part of Other.” Similarly,
Mitchell (1989, p. 285) observed, “If an abbreviated
apology is given immediately following a transgression,
it may be perceived as superWcial and insincere.” Both of
these statements suggest that although what someone
says is important, how and when it is said will also inXu-
ence an apology’s eVectiveness.
Given the importance of apologies, it is not surprising
that so many people have tried to analyze what makes
an apology eVective. What is surprising, however, is how
little empirical work underlies these analyses. Most
research on apologies has simply demonstrated their
general eVectiveness. A few studies have examined char-
acteristics of an oVense (e.g., oVense severity or oVender
responsibility, Bennet & Earwaker, 1994; Itoi, Ohbuchi,
& Fukuno, 1996) that can inXuence an apology’s eVec-
tiveness. However, most oVenders cannot really alter the
facts of a transgression they have already committed,
and so they would probably be more interested in know-
ing what to say, and when and how to say it, once the
deed is done. Scher and Darley (1997) and Darby and
Schlenker (1989) carried out the only published studies
of what makes an apology more or less eVective. Both
studies showed that oVenders’ expressions of remorse
made apologies more eVective. Scher and Darley (1997)
also found that expressions of responsibility, promises of
forbearance, and oVers of reparation were helpful. Pre-
sumably, these variables all serve to make apologies
seem more sincere.
Meanwhile, the role of timing in apology eVectiveness
has been ignored. Our research seeks to Wll this gap.
Research on timing as a factor in the eVectiveness of
apologies might have practical beneWts, if it helped
oVenders to better heal the wounds they have caused.
But it also has potential theoretical implications: Apolo-
gies are a way for one person to produce emotional
change in another, a phenomenon that is fundamental to
many interpersonal processes, including psychotherapy,
conXict resolution, and social support. Understanding
this phenomenon may thus clarify how negative emo-
tions can be managed more productively.
What is the proper timing of an apology? To answer
this question, we drew from work on conXict resolution.
An apology is an attempt by one party (the oVender) to
de-escalate a conXict by creating a change in the victim
(e.g., more forgiveness, less anger). People who study
conXict resolution use the term “ripeness” to describe
someone’s readiness for conXict de-escalation (see Cole-
man, 1997; for a review and synthesis).
Thus, a victim’s ripeness, or readiness to receive an
apology, may be a key determinant of its eVectiveness.
An apology that is oVered too early during conXict may
pressure someone who is not ready for de-escalation.
Furthermore, once an apology has been oVered, the vic-
tim faces certain social constraints: We are supposed to
forgive and forget, whether we are ready to or not (Ben-
net & Dewberry, 1994). This tension between the exter-
nal social constraint and the victim’s internal state may
further limit the apology’s eVectiveness. As a colleague
of ours once said to someone who oVered an apology
prematurely, “Don’t apologize. I’m not done being mad
at you.” Ripeness takes time. Thus, one major hypothe-
sis of our research is that apologies are more eVective
when they come later in a conXict.
Coleman (1997) argued that many aVective, cognitive,
behavioral, and environmental factors inXuence whether
someone is ripe for conXict resolution. We chose to
examine the roles of voice and understanding in creating
such readiness. Voice and understanding are associated
with positive outcomes in a variety of contexts. For
example, Lind, Kanfer, and Earley (1990) found that
voice (the opportunity to express one’s views) makes
decisions seem more fair, even when someone’s views
have had no impact on the decision-making process.
Similarly, Frantz and JanoV-Bulman (1999) found that
when each party in an interpersonal conXict believes that
the other party understands his or her point of view,
both parties view one another more favorably.
GoVman’s observation about how apologies work
helps to explain why voice and understanding might be
important. As he noted, apologies split the oVender in
two, and the transgression seems more acceptable if the
victim believes in this split. Feeling heard and under-
stood increases a victim’s faith in the “good” part of the
oVender, by helping the victim to believe that the
oVender knows what he or she did wrong, and why it
was hurtful to the victim.
Thus, victims may be more ready to accept an apol-
ogy when they have a chance to express themselves and
feel understood Wrst. Apologies that are oVered too
quickly may not be eVective, in part because the victim
still feels unheard, and is not convinced that the
oVender knows what he or she did wrong, or why it was
hurtful, or how hurtful it was. We therefore hypothe-
sized that apologies that occur later in a conXict are
more eVective, primarily because victims are more likely
to have expressed themselves, and thus feel better
understood. These cognitive changes lead to a state of
ripeness.
For obvious ethical reasons, experimental research on
the role of apologies in meaningful interpersonal con-
Xicts is diYcult. Ohbuchi et al. (1989) actually committed
a transgression against their participants in a laboratory
experiment on apologies, but most other researchers
have used hypothetical scenarios and role-playing (e.g.,
Scher & Darley, 1997) or retrospective accounts of trans-
gressions from participants’ lives (e.g., McCullough et
al., 1998). Because each of these methodologies has its
own strengths and weaknesses, both personal narratives
and hypothetical scenarios were used in our research. In
Study 1 we focused on meaningful real-life conXicts that
C.M. Frantz, C. Bennigson / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207 203
have high ecological validity and considerable emotional
force. Study 2 focused on a conXict described in a hypo-
thetical scenario. Its purpose was to replicate the main
Wndings of Study 1, and establish causality, through an
experimental design.
In both studies, we predicted that the later an apol-
ogy came in a conXict scene, the more eVective it would
be. We also predicted that later apologies would be
associated with greater feelings of voice and under-
standing, and that these eVects would mediate the rela-
tionship between apology timing and outcome
satisfaction.
Study 1
Method
Participants
Twenty-four volunteer undergraduates at Williams
College (7 males, 16 females) were recruited to partici-
pate in a study on “Apology and ConXict.” They
received a candy bar for their participation.
Procedure
After providing their informed consent, participants
received a questionnaire that contained all the instruc-
tions. First, they were asked to describe on a blank page
“a recent conXict (within the last six months) you have
had with another individual ƒ in which you felt you
were wronged, and also in which the other gave you an
apology of some kind.” After writing this description,
participants reported how long ago the conXict
occurred. Next, they read a list of typical, everyday con-
Xict events (see Appendix A). This list was generated by
a diVerent sample of 15 undergraduates, who were
asked to name events that “typically happen in a con-
Xict.” Participants ranked these events in the order that
they occurred during the personal conXict that they
wrote about previously (putting a 0 next to events that
never occurred).
The list included several key events. The rank for the
item “Other apologized to me” served as our measure
of when an apology was received during each partici-
pant’s own conXict. Ranks varied from 1 to 19, with
higher numbers indicating that the apology occurred
later in the conXict. The items “I believed Other under-
stood my feelings and point of view,” “Other showed
non-verbally that s/he understood me,” “Other said s/
he understood my side,” “Other asked questions to
understand what I was saying,” and “I recounted my
grievances and stated my point of view” were used to
create an index of how much voice and understanding
each participant experienced. Each item was scored as
either occurring (1) or not (0). These scores were
summed to create an index, which varied from 0 to 5.
Higher scores indicated that the victim felt heard and
understood.2
Respondents then went on to answer questions
about how they felt now about the conXict they
described. They rated how angry they remained, how
well they felt the conXict had been resolved, and how
much they had forgiven the oVender, using 10 point
scales (0 Dnot at all to 10 Dcompletely). Negative items
were reverse coded. These ratings were averaged into
an outcome measure of present satisfaction with the
conXict’s resolution (D.89), which served as our
dependent variable.
Finally, the participants were debriefed, thanked for
their help, and dismissed. No one seemed to have
guessed our hypothesis.
All the conXict descriptions were read and coded by
two people who were blind to our hypotheses. They
rated the severity of each transgression on a seven-point
scale (1 Dtrivial to 7Dextremely severe). Coders were
asked to focus on the initial transgression, not on how
the victim or oVender behaved afterwards. The ratings
from both coders were averaged together to create a
measure of conXict severity (D.71).
Results
Preliminary analyses revealed no signiWcant gender
eVects of any sort, so that variable will not be discussed
further. Means and standard deviations for the other
variables are shown in Table 1. Table 1 also shows corre-
lations that are key to testing our main hypotheses.
Spearman’s rho, a non-parametric measure, was used to
calculate correlations involving apology timing, which
was an ordinal variable. We Wrst tested to see how con-
Xict severity related to apology timing, voice and under-
standing, and outcome satisfaction. ConXict severity
correlated negatively with outcome satisfaction, but did
not correlate with the other variables. This suggested
2Whether voice and feeling understood occur before or after an
apology is important. We assumed that they occurred before the apol-
ogy, and in fact this was true for all but one of our participants, who
was dropped from the analyses.
T
a
bl
e
1
Study 1: Means, standard deviations, and correlations between inde-
pendent, dependent, and mediating variables
*p< .07.
** p< .05.
Measure (ND23) Mean SD Correlations
12 3 4
1. Outcome satisfaction 7.10 2.34 .38*.48** ¡.45**
2. Timing of apology 6.74 3.02 .69** .20
3. Voice/understanding 0.61 .36 .11
4. Severity of conXict 3.08 1.13
204 C.M. Frantz, C. Bennigson / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207
that it was not necessary to include conXict severity as a
factor in tests of our hypotheses.
Our Wrst hypothesis, that later apologies would be
associated with more outcome satisfaction, was sup-
ported. Apology timing was positively correlated with
outcome satisfaction; when the apology came later in
the conXict, participants reported greater satisfaction.
Our second hypothesis, that voice and understanding
mediated this eVect, was also supported. As Baron and
Kenny (1986) noted, mediation occurs when a variable
(voice and understanding) accounts for the relation-
ship between the predictor (apology timing) and the
dependent variable (outcome satisfaction). Because
apology timing was an ordinal variable, we chose to
test for mediation using a series of spearman’s rho cor-
relations and partial correlations, rather than the mul-
tiple regression procedure recommended by Baron and
Kenny. Table 1 shows that apology timing correlated
signiWcantly with voice and understanding; later apolo-
gies were associated with higher levels of voice and
understanding. Voice and understanding correlated
signiWcantly with outcome satisfaction; higher levels of
voice and understanding were associated with higher
levels of outcome satisfaction. Finally, when voice and
understanding were held constant, the correlation
between outcome satisfaction and apology timing
disappeared, rD.06. Thus, the relationship between
apology timing and outcome satisfaction can be
explained by the mediating eVect of voice and under-
standing.
Study 2
The results of Study 1 support our hypotheses.
Because our results were correlational, however, the
causal relations among the variables that we measured
were unclear. For example, people who express them-
selves more often during a conXict may receive later
apologies because they have annoyed the oVender, or
because all their talking kept the oVender from apologiz-
ing earlier. If so, then voice aVects the timing of apolo-
gies, rather than the other way around.
Because of these concerns, we ran a second study
with a larger sample and an experimental methodology.
In Study 2, participants read a hypothetical scenario in
which they all experienced voice and understanding, but
received apologies at diVerent times. Some participants
received an apology before feeling understood, some
after feeling understood, and some never received an
apology. This allowed us to test whether receiving an
apology after voice and understanding indeed produces
greater outcome satisfaction. We also wanted to
compare those who received an apology to those who
did not, to see whether any apology is better than none
at all.
Method
Participants
In a single mass-testing situation, 83 undergraduates
(35 males and 47 females) at Amherst College received
extra course credit for participating in a study on “reac-
tions to being wronged.” They were told when they were
recruited that the study involved responding to hypo-
thetical conXict scenarios.
Procedure
After providing their informed consent, participants
were asked to read about a hypothetical situation and
urged to “try to imagine the described situations as
clearly as possible, and answer all questions based on
how YOU would feel if the same thing happened to
you.” All participants then read the same description of
an event:
One Friday night, you were waiting in your dorm room
for your friend Chris to get back from his baseball game.
The two of you had made plans earlier in the week to
rent a movie you had heard was really good, and later go
to a party on campus. Chris was supposed to show up
around 9 when he got back from the game with his team,
but sometimes games ran a little later. At around 8:30
your roommates all left to go to an oV-campus party and
asked you to join them. It sounded like fun to you, but
you knew you could not just break the plans you had
made with Chris. You were ready at 9:00 and ended up
waiting until 10:30, until it was clear that either some-
thing was wrong or he had forgotten. The next day, you
learned from a mutual friend that Chris had been out
partying from 8:30 on. You were angry, so you called
Chris to talk to him.
Participants were given a blank space in which to write
how they would feel, and asked to write “as if this had
actually happened to you.” Then, they rated seven emo-
tion words (angry, understanding, frustrated, forgiving,
satisWed, resentful, and irritated) to indicate how much
they would feel each emotion. These ratings, which were
made on seven-point scales (1DNot at all to 7 DVery),
were averaged together to create a single score that mea-
sured initial responses to the transgression (D.88).
Participants then read one of three diVerent descrip-
tions of the phone conversation that occurred the next
day with Chris. These conversations were identical
except for whether an apology occurred at the very
beginning of the conversation, or after the participant
had (hypothetically) voiced her concerns and received
acknowledgement from Chris that her feelings were
understood. In a third condition, participants received
no apology at all.
In the later apology condition, for example, the par-
ticipants read:
C.M. Frantz, C. Bennigson / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207 205
When Chris answered, you said “What happened last
night? We had plans.” You talked for a while, you telling
about the party you eventually went to and Chris telling
about the party he went to. You told Chris that you had
waited for nearly 2 hours because you did not want to
ditch Chris if the game had gone longer than expected.
You told Chris that you had even skipped going to a
party with a bunch of your other friends so that you did
not break your plans with Chris. Besides, you added,
Chris had forgotten other plans you had made in the
past and that just made you more upset about the whole
situation. Chris told you that he could understand why
you were upset and that he himself would be upset in the
same situation. Chris said “Sorry,” and also explained
that he had played horribly that day and his mind was
still on the game when he got back to school. When he
returned, he just wanted to go out and party to get his
mind oV the game, and he completely forgot the plans he
and you had made earlier in the week. Then Chris said,
“I’ve got to run to class. Talk to you later” and hung up.
Participants were given a blank space in which to
write about their reactions to this conversation. Then
they rated the same emotions are before, allowing us to
create a single score measuring participants’ Wnal reac-
tions to the transgression (D.91). Participants were also
asked whether they had received an apology from Chris.
After completing the questionnaire, participants were
debriefed, thanked for their help, and dismissed. No one
seemed to have guessed the hypotheses.
Results
Responses to our question about the apology were
analyzed to verify that participants correctly noticed and
remembered this information from the scenario. Twenty-
three participants, spread evenly across the three condi-
tions, answered the question incorrectly.3 The analyses
reported below do not include their data (although
including them did not substantially change the results).
Table 2 provides the means and standard deviations
for all three conditions at Time 1 and Time 2. To test
whether the timing of apologies aVected changes in reac-
tions to the transgression, responses were submitted to a
2 (gender) £3 (apology condition) £2 (time) mixed-
design ANOVA. There were only three signiWcant
eVects. First, there was a signiWcant gender eVect, F(1,
53) D5.44, p<.001. At both times, women were less posi-
tive (MD2.82, SD D1.04) than men (MD3.53,
SD D1.37), perhaps because the scenario involved a
male friend, which may have connoted being stood up
for a date.
There was also a main eVect of time, F(1, 53)D6.63,
p< .01. Participants were generally more positive at Time
2 (MD3.38), SD D1.64 than at Time 1 (MD2.97,
SD D1.24). However, this was qualiWed by an apology
condition by time interaction, F(2, 53)D6.03, p< .001.
Planned comparisons were conducted to determine
whether the interaction eVect supported our hypotheses.
Changes in reactions from Time 1 to Time 2 diVered sig-
niWcantly across all three conditions. Reactions
improved most in the later apology condition, followed
by the early apology condition, and then by the no apol-
ogy condition (where reactions actually worsened).
Improvement in the late apology condition was signiW-
cantly greater than improvement in the early apology
condition, t(52) D2.41, p<.05, or improvement in the no
apology condition, t(52) D4.50, p< .001. And improve-
ment in the early apology condition was signiWcantly
greater than improvement in the no apology condition,
t(54) D2.18, p< .05, where reactions actually became
slightly more negative. However, participants who
received an apology after voice and understanding were
the only group whose reactions changed signiWcantly
from Time 1 to Time 2, t(25) D4.44, p< .001.
Discussion
In Study 1, apologies that occurred later in a conXict
were more eVective, in the sense that they were associated
with greater outcome satisfaction. There was also some
evidence that voice and understanding mediate the rela-
tionship between apology timing and apology eVectiveness.
In Study 2, we experimentally manipulated the timing
of apologies, and replicated the results from Study 1. We
found that a later apology, occurring after voice and
understanding, was more eVective than an early apology,
occurring before voice and understanding. This suggests
that the timing of an apology does matter, and that late
is better than early. Not receiving an apology at all, even
when there was voice and understanding, was worse
than receiving an early apology. Thus, even an early
apology is better than no apology—the words “I’m
sorry” have a power of their own, even when circum-
stances are less than ideal.
3Although a 28% manipulation check failure rate may seem high,
Oppenheimer and Davidenko (2002) have documented similar rates in
other large group testing sessions.
T
a
bl
e
2
Study 2: Change in feelings from Time 1 to Time 2
Note. There were no signiWcant diVerences among conditions in feel-
ings at Time 1.
** p< .001.
Condition Time 1 Time 2 T1 vs. T2
NMean SD Mean SD t
Later apology 26 2.64 0.84 3.64 1.55 4.44**
Early apology 28 3.09 1.35 3.38 1.49 1.51
No apology 28 3.12 1.28 2.85 1.44 1.58
206 C.M. Frantz, C. Bennigson / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207
Delayed apologies were thus more eVective in both
studies, probably because the victim had more time to
feel heard and understood. Our results were obtained
with two diVerent methodologies. The high ecological
validity of the real life conXicts used in Study 1 suggests
that the results apply to meaningful conXicts, and the
experimental design used in Study 2 establishes the
causal role of apology timing in outcome satisfaction.
Our research suggests that delaying an apology until
after the victim has a chance to feel heard and under-
stood may be the most eVective way to right wrongs.
Feeling heard and understood apparently fosters ripe-
ness, a readiness to de-escalate conXict.
These results are also consistent with a recent litera-
ture review on the adaptiveness of expressing negative
emotions (Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 2001). Work on
catharsis suggests that expressing anger often strength-
ens, rather than weakens, aggression, and anger (e.g.,
Bushman, 2002). However, other researchers (e.g.,
Pennebaker, 1997) have documented the beneWts of self-
expression. Kennedy-Moore and Watson (2001) resolve
this contradiction in the literature by arguing that
expressing negative feelings is adaptive when it leads to
some form of resolution involving the source of distress.
Giving voice to personal concerns, and eliciting under-
standing from an oVender, should create these condi-
tions. Communicating what bothered you is a way of
reassuring yourself that an oVender understands the rule
that was broken, and eliciting that understanding before
receiving an apology makes you feel more convinced
that the oVender will “do the right thing” in the future.
Before readers rush out and wait to apologize, however,
several cautions are in order. Our research is only a start-
ing point for investigating the factors that make apologies
eVective. More research is needed to be fully conWdent in
our results. For example, the time frames that we exam-
ined were quite limited (within the last 6 months for Study
1, and within 24h for Study 2.) The possible eVects of long-
delayed apologies are not yet known. Recent research sug-
gests that some apologies are too late to be eVective (Zilzer
& Frantz, 2002). Thus, there may be a U-shaped function
relating apology timing and outcome satisfaction—
extremely early and extremely late apologies are likely to
be ineVective. There are probably also occasions when an
apology is ineVective no matter when it occurs.
Another limitation of our research is the way in which
the hypothesized mediating variables were measured.
Voice and understanding were not measured separately.
This choice was inXuenced by practical considerations
rather than theoretical ones; voice and understanding
are clearly separate processes at the theoretical level. The
narrative methodology that we used in Study 1 did not
lend itself to such Wne-grained analysis, because current
feelings of being understood probably strongly inXuence
memories about expressing one’s viewpoint. In Study 2,
too many cells would have been created by systemati-
cally varying the presence and absence of both under-
standing and voice, along with the timing of the apology.
Future research should examine voice and understand-
ing separately. Voice without understanding may be less
beneWcial than voice with understanding, and may in
fact intensify feelings of anger.
We argued that ripeness leads to greater outcome sat-
isfaction, but ripeness is a latent variable that cannot be
directly measured. Many cognitive and emotional fac-
tors are involved in ripeness (Coleman, 1997), and these
can be measured. However, few of them were measured
here. For example, voice and understanding should
strengthen a victim’s belief that an oVender will not com-
mit the same oVense again. Future research should mea-
sure this and other cognitive factors that might be
inXuenced by the timing of an apology.
Emotions are more diYcult to measure, yet they
undoubtedly play an important role in ripeness too. For
example, anger is an emotion with a time course, so ripe-
ness (“I’m done being mad”) may depend in part on
anger subsiding. The methodologies used here did not
allow us to explore this issue. We doubt that people can
accurately remember the time course of their anger dur-
ing past events, and responses to scenarios involve a
hypothetical, rather than an actual time frame.
Many of these limitations could be overcome by
studying ongoing conXicts. This might allow for the
direct exploration of both a victim’s ability to voice his
or her concerns, and an oVender’s ability to convey
understanding of the victim’s viewpoint. The time course
of such emotions as anger could also be measured.
Although we left many questions unanswered, our
research provides an important Wrst step towards under-
standing the factors that aVect an apology’s eVectiveness.
Letting someone Wrst voice his or her concerns, and then
assuring the person that these concerns are understood,
may “ripen” the person for conXict de-escalation. More
broadly, our research suggests that a fundamental Wrst step
toward changing emotions may be to acknowledge their
existence. This is resonant with some psychological theo-
ries (cf. Carl Rogers’ idea of unconditional regard) as well
as many Eastern approaches to life (see Kabat-Zinn, 1994).
Appendix A. List of conXict events ordered by participants
Other interrupted me while I spoke.
I interrupted Other while s/he spoke.
Other asked questions in order to understand what I was
saying.
Other showed non-verbally that s/he understood me.
I felt Other owed me an apology.
Other said s/he understood my side.
Other threatened me.
I threatened other.
Other stated his/her point of view.
C.M. Frantz, C. Bennigson / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41 (2005) 201–207 207
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I recounted my grievances and stated my point of view.
I believed Other understood my feelings and point of
view.
I understood Other’s feelings and point of view.
Other apologized to me.
I apologized to Other.
Other yelled at me.
I yelled at Other.
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Other insulted me.
I insulted Other.
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