Love – Sorry

Does love really mean never having to say you’re sorry? Or is saying you’re sorry not even enough? Results of a recent study of conflict resolution conducted in the Netherlands might surprise you and is sure to create more questions. Participants were engaged in a gaming situation on the order of Prisoner’s Dilemma, but carried out on the computer—where they thought they were “playing” with (or against) a human partner. Actually, the “other” player’s actions were pre-established and automated. The subject was to decide whether to “give” money to the partner (in which case it would triple in value) or to keep it, with the understanding that the partner who receives money may or may not decide to give some back. The automated “partner” would return a small amount of money, less than the subject would have been able to keep on his own—some accompanied by an apology and some without an apology, in which case the participant was told to imagine he had received an apology from the “partner.”

Can you guess what the findings were? The participants who had to create their own “imagined” apology were more satisfied than those who had actually received an apology along with the meager amount of returned money. Cognitive dissonance? Or maybe cultivating compassion by imagining an apology primed some positive neural networks? Social scientists and psychologists may have a lot of explaining to do.

What does it all mean in terms of conflict resolution? Well, the results indicate that the need for an apology is not well understood. Most people agree that someone who has been slighted deserves an apology and that the wrongdoer should apologize, but is that enough? What do you think? Authors of the study believe that an apology is a necessary, first step in moving toward reconciliation, but the apology is usually not as satisfying to the affronted person as he and everyone else expected it to be. The offender should indicate that he is willing to go further. Does this mean he needs “to make it up to” the offended person?

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