Homo Consumericus

The nature and nurture of consumption

The Secret to an Effective Apology: It Must Be Costly!

Apologies Must Be Costly Lest They Appear Disingenuous.

In a recent Entourage episode, the cutthroat agent Ari Gold played brilliantly by Jeremy Piven apologizes to his wife, for not having divulged information to her about his friend's marital infidelities, by buying her a very expensive Maserati Quattroporte. In the 2006 movie The Last Kiss, a young couple (played by Zach Braff and Jacinda Barrett) is expecting their first child and they are to be married shortly when tragedy befalls their blissful union. Zach's character (Michael) succumbs to the sexual advances of the alluring Rachel Bilson. In seeking to win back his wife-to-be (Jenna) subsequent to having admitted his infidelity, the following conversation transpires between him and Jenna's father (source: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0014726/).

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Michael: I'm in love with your daughter Stephen. Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you but I'm standing here. You are her father, I am looking you in the eyes and I'm telling you I will do anything in the world to get your daughter back.
Stephen: Really?
Michael: Really.
Stephen: Anything?
Michael: I'll do anything.
Stephen: People say that, they don't mean it.
Michael: But I mean it!
Stephen: Well it's very simple... do whatever it takes.
Michael: It's that simple?
Stephen: Yes... you can't fail if you don't give up.

Michael ends up spending several days and nights camped on the footsteps of their house, suffering through hunger, thirst, physical discomfort, and inclement weather. Hence, he demonstrates his honest apologetic intent by going through very difficult trials and tribulations. This is somewhat more costly than the supposed "apology gift" that French men offer their wives when they've been unfaithful (yellow roses)!

In addition to the financial and/or physical costs of honest apologies, these are typically costly in terms of one's ego. Specifically, a heartfelt apology requires that the apologizer approach the grieved person with humility, contriteness, and deference. In many instances, this costly requirement can be a deal breaker in that few people can bear such an ego-threatening cost.

Yohsuke Ohtsubo and Esuka Watanabe recently published a paper in Evolution and Human Behavior wherein they tested the idea that apologies must be costly in order to be perceived as sincere. You might ask yourself: how can this topic be linked to evolutionary theory? Well, you might recall one of my earlier posts wherein I discussed costly signaling in biology and how it can be used to explain the frequency with which male rappers are shown throwing away wads of money in their videos. The bottom line is that in the same way that a peacock's tail is an honest signal of his phenotypic quality by virtue of the costs associated with carrying such a burdensome tail, costly apologies are perceived as more honest and credible, the greater the cost borne by the apologizer.

Are you listening Chris Brown and Kanye West?

Source for Image:

http://thesuperficial.com/2009/07/29/0729_kanye_west_tux_00.jpg

https://static2.shopify.com/s/files/1/0007/8652/files/Apologize_D...

Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University and author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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