Trust is a big factor in our relationships — whether they are person-to-person relationships or customer-to-firm relationships. And apologies may help engender trust.

Recently, a marketing-oriented research study looked at apologetic behavior and trust. As reported by Suzanne Lucas for CBS Money Watch:

“A new study by Alison Brooks (Harvard), Hengchen Dai (University of Pennsylvania), and Maurice E. Schweitzer (University of Pennsylvania), showed that people were much more likely to lend a stranger their cell phone when the stranger first apologized for the rain — something that was clearly outside of his control. The difference was significant: Only 9 percent of strangers handed over their phones without the apology, but 47 percent did when the person apologized. The study also looked at apologizing for a computer override, and another cell phone situation, this time with a delayed flight. In all cases, apologizing for something that was clearly not the person’s fault resulted in more willingness to cooperate and higher trust ratings.”

Click the image to read more at BPS Research Digest.



8 Replies to “An Interesting Study on Trust”

  1. The reason that I think people are more willing to trust someone who apologizes for something first is because it indicates that they are considerate of the other person. Even if the thing that they apologize for is out of their control,, expressing an apology about that thing shows that they are thinking about the other person and the way that they feel, and that they care. The person that they are asking the favor from immediately feels cared about and that the person has made a connection with them, causing them to be more willing to do that favor.

  2. This study is very interesting because even when the person apologizing, is apologizing for something out of their control it still leads the other person to lend them their phone and to trust them more. I think the correlation is related to “breaking the ice” it lets the other person know that “hey, I’m feeling the same way this rain is crummy”. Rather then making them feel uncomfortable by asking a stranger to use something so close to us in our society. It allows the person with the cell phone to realize it’s just a person how needs a little help, not some “creepy” stranger. It makes them see how much the person in need could be them someday.

  3. I think the reason why people could get trust after they apologize for something that is clearly out of their control is because this behavior could evoke others’ sympathy and more importantly acceptance. It is kinda like what a british program “Hustle” says: when you want to pick up a girl and dont know what to do, just try to pretend to cry. It could easy evoke females’ mother nature and make them feel you need them. So basically I think this is a psychological trick. It can be used in both a good or a bad way. People also need to be aware of some one might use this trick to harm themselves.

  4. I could see why people who apologize for something out of their control can seem more trustworthy, likable or empathetic, as the article says. The key word is “sorry.” “Sorry” is such an endearing term that makes people seem humble.”Sorry” is a word that conveys consideration for others. I know when I’m walking to class or standing in line and if someone accidentally bumps into me and says “sorry,” I automatically perceive them as a nice person (even if we are complete strangers!). It’s funny to think how a single word can change your perception of an individual and determine your actions towards them (i.e. deciding whether or not to lend them your phone).

  5. I found this article to be rather interesting being a psychologist. I can understand where the article and experimenter are coming from because there is evidence for other similar events that could relate to this research. However, its strange to see that simply by apologizing for the rain we are more willing to trust someone with our personal belongings, especially something that in today’s society, we view as a life necessity. This brings up the question of what else would we let someone do instead of borrowing an object. Would we let a stranger watch our children or into our house if they apologize for inclement weather?

  6. When people apologize for something that is not their fault it makes someone want to open up more to them and listen to what they have to say. Just like it was said in the experiment I would definitely let a stranger borrow my phone if they needed to after we had a conversation beforehand. It gives people a sense of security that the person may be a kind hearted person. All someone wants to hear is that other people care and are interested, and they would help out others.

  7. I think the reason the apology works so favorably is that it shows a consideration and humanity to the person, leading the individual to “trust” them. Even though the rain was clearly beyond their control, and there was no reason for them to apologize for it, it makes the individual appear kind and can lead someone into sometimes a false sense of security. People can often get taken advantage of this way, such a simple term as “sorry” shouldn’t lead to trust.

  8. I would never think that In any way that apologizing in situations we weren’t responsible for would affect our influence on people. The only way this makes sense to me is since apologizing is empathy then it makes the other person feel as if we are relating to them. This makes the person feel as if we care about them which in the end would explain why we would let someone borrow something so important like a cell phone.

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