Perpetrators’ and Victims’ Folk Explanations of Aggressive Behaviors and Desires for Apologies

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Collabra: Psychology


After an aggressive interaction, perpetrators most want to offer apologies when they have unintentionally harmed another person and victims most want to receive an apology when another person intentionally harmed them. Perpetrators and victims also explain aggressive behaviors differently—perpetrators often explain their own aggressive behaviors by referring to beliefs they considered that led to their behaviors (i.e., “belief” explanations), whereas victims explain perpetrators’ behaviors by referring to background factors that do not mention the perpetrators’ mental deliberations (i.e., “causal history explanations”). Putting these ideas together, the current Registered Report had participants recall either a time they intentionally harmed another person or a time when they were intentionally harmed by another person. Participants then rated several characteristics of the recalled behavior, explained why the behavior occurred, and reported their desire for an apology. As predicted, we found that perpetrators who gave “belief” explanations wanted to give an apology much less than participants who gave “causal history explanations.” However, and inconsistent with our predictions, victims’ desire to receive an apology was similar regardless of how they explained the perpetrators’ behaviors. These findings underscore how perpetrators’ explanations can emphasize (or de-emphasize) the deliberateness of their harmful behaviors and how these explanations are related to their desire to make amends.

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Department of Psychology