Belief in the Malleability of Groups Strengthens the Tenuous Link Between a Collective Apology and Intergroup Forgiveness

Michael J.A. Wohl*, Smadar Cohen-Chen, Eran Halperin, Julie Caouette, Nicole Hayes, Matthew J. Hornsey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Although it is widely assumed that collective apologies for intergroup harms facilitate forgiveness, evidence for a strong link between the two remains elusive. In four studies we tested the proposition that the apology–forgiveness link exists, but only among people who hold an implicit belief that groups can change. In Studies 1 and 2, perceived group malleability (measured and manipulated, respectively) moderated the responses to an apology by Palestinian leadership toward Israelis: Positive responses such as forgiveness increased with greater belief in group malleability. In Study 3, university students who believed in group malleability were more forgiving of a rival university’s derogatory comments in the presence (as opposed to the absence) of an apology. In Study 4, perceived perpetrator group remorse mediated the moderating effect of group malleability on the apology–forgiveness link (assessed in the context of a corporate transgression). Implications for collective apologies and movement toward reconciliation are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)714-725
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - 9 May 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The reported studies were supported by a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (435-2012-1135) to Wohl and Halperin as well as a research grant from the Australian Research Council (DP1093654) to Hornsey and Wohl.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc


  • apology
  • forgiveness
  • implicit theories
  • intergroup


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