Research article

Repairing Trust Between Individuals and Groups: The Effectiveness of Apologies in Interpersonal and Intergroup Contexts



Transgressions and injustice are an inevitable part of social life, both in interactions between individuals and between groups. But whereas conflict between individuals typically impacts only few, conflict between groups can be harmful to many – as is illustrated by disputes between nations, political parties, and social groups. For this reason, it is crucial to understand how such transgressions can be restored. In interpersonal contexts, there is considerable evidence that apologies can restore transgressions and enable victims and perpetrators to reconcile. It is unknown, however, to what extent their remedial effectiveness may translate to conflicts between groups. The present research illuminates this question. In an experimental study (N = 272), we compared the effectiveness of apologies for restoring trust after transgressions between individuals or groups. Results revealed that both in interpersonal and intergroup contexts, apologies significantly increased trust. However, their impact was greater in interpersonal interactions (where they fully restored trust to its pre-transgression level) than in intergroup interactions (where they failed to fully restore trust). Furthermore, the effectiveness of apologies was shaped by their emotional content. In disputes between individuals, only apologies with secondary emotions fully restored trust. Conversely, in disputes between groups, neither apologies with primary emotions nor those with secondary emotions fully restored trust. This was explained by greater skepticism of apologies in intergroup contexts, particularly of apologies with secondary emotions. These findings underline that intergroup interactions are more competitive and distrusting than interpersonal interactions, and suggest that more extensive remedies may be required to reduce intergroup tensions.


apologytrustreconciliationforgivenessintergroup relationsinterpersonal relations
  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 34 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 14
  • DOI: 10.5334/irsp.479
  • Submitted on 20 Jun 2020
  • Accepted on 25 May 2021
  • Published on 2 Jul 2021
  • Peer Reviewed