Children's reactions to transgressions: Effects of the actor's apology, reputation and remorse

Darby, Bruce W.
Schlenker, Barry R.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
This experiment examined children's reactions to a transgression in which one child's property was damaged by another who (a) had a reputation as a good or bad child, (b) apologized or did not, and (c) later expressed remorse when talking about the incident or was happy and unremorseful. As expected, actors who had a good reputation or were remorseful were seen as more likable, as having better motives, as doing the damage unintentionally, as more sorry and as less blameworthy. Further, actors who were good and remorseful were punished least, suggesting that punishment was applied in a rehabilitative fashion. The actor's reputation determined how his or her actions were interpreted: bad actors were seen as more worried about punishment when they expressed remorse and older children thought they apologized merely to avoid punishment. Interestingly, apologies were effective in reducing punishment and making the actor seem more likable, and this was true irrespective of the other factors. The apology‐forgiveness script may be such an ingrained aspect of social life that its appearance automatically improves the actor's position. The reactions of second and fifth graders were generally similar, although the younger children displayed less coherent relationships between judgements.
Judgment in children, Transgression (Ethics), Apologizing
Darby, B. W., & Schlenker, B. R. (1989). Children's reactions to transgressions: Effects of the actor's apology, reputation and remorse. British Journal of Social Psychology, 28(4), 353-364.