Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Regaining trust after a transgression

Study co-authored by USC Marshall professor finds that perceived repentance is critical element to re-establish trust

The scene has become all too familiar – the disgraced politician, chastened business leader or shamed celebrity standing before a podium offering up their apologies as the news cameras flash. "Sorry" may be the hardest word to say, but does simply owning up to misdeeds do anything toward regaining trust after a transgression or are words, as some say, cheap?

According to a recent paper by researchers at USC, Washington University in St. Louis, Singapore Management University and the University of Miami, it depends on the how the audience perceives the apology. The researchers investigated what is called substantive efforts to repair trust--those responses to trust violations that are more significant than a verbal apology or promise such as punishment, regulation or policies designed to prevent future transgressions. The researchers concluded that the ability of each method to repair trust hinged on the extent to which the response by the alleged trust violator showed that the violator was truly repentant.

The four-part study, detailed in an article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, was conducted by Peter Kim, associate professor of management and organization at USC Marshall School of Business; Kurt Dirks, Bank of America professor of managerial leadership at Washington University's John M. Olin School of Business; Donald Ferrin, associate professor of organizational behavior and human resources at Singapore's Lee Kong Chian School of Business; and Cecily Cooper, associate professor of management at Miami's Department of Management.

Participants in the U.S. and Singapore took part in four experiments, two of which had participants make a series of trust-related decisions in a game with a virtual partner who would, at a designated point in the match, violate their trust by keeping all the money earned cooperatively in previous rounds. The two other studies meanwhile, assessed participants' opinion of a fictional CEO who asked his employees to take a pay cut and failed to follow suit, breaking a promise to refuse dividends from his preferred stock holdings.

The research, detailed in the article "Understanding the Effects of Substantive Responses on Trust Following a Transgression," showed that nothing beat showing true contrition in terms of winning back trust.

Why is this presumed to work? According to the study, it is about perception and activating an impression of repentance in the wronged individual's mind, thus reinforcing that the perpetrator is unlikely to violate trust again. To communicate repentance, the violator must show that he/she regrets his/her actions, that he/she is committed to reform, and has the resolve to act differently in the future.

Preventative measures, calls for regulation and even promises of financial remediation did less in some cases than simply and convincingly apologizing to the wronged parties. When coupled with a believable apology, however, substantive methods like regulation were effective, more so depending on whether the violation was due to incompetence, which participants found easier to forgive, than lack of integrity. 1 "We want to know that the person has changed somehow, that their character has changed. The trust repair responses we explore, even though they differ in costliness, the approach and so on, the extent at which they work hinges on their ability to signal perceived repentance," said Kim.

Kim pointed to the recent sexting scandal involving former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner as a relevant example of the study's core findings.

"The fact that he resigned from Congress, it's clear that he did so involuntarily so that resignation isn't going to restore trust in him at all," said Kim. "If it had been seen as him doing so voluntarily and that he was punishing himself and doing so because he really was repentant that would have been far more effective than the same objective outcome. Leaving Congress because it was imposed on him, that punishment is not able to signal that sense of repentance."

The fallout from the phone-hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's News Corp remains to be seen, but Kim, citing his trust research, said their success will depend on several factors.

"If News Corp offered a trust repair response voluntarily that's going to be more effective. Should they apologize and then offer some sort of compensation to the victims? Should they ask for some government oversight of their policies and practices? If it's seen just as a payoff rather than them being truly sorry about what happened then that's going to be less effective as well. All of this hinges on that signal of repentance ."

Amy Blumenthal | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>