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Trust Maintenance as a Function of Construal Level and Attributions: The Case of Apologies

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European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on


When do recipients of an apology (‘trustors’) base their decision to trust a perpetrator (a ‘trustee’) on the attributional information embedded in an apology? Attributions provide a detailed account of the trustee's causal involvement in committing a transgression. We therefore argue that trustors in a low construal level mindset use this information in their trusting decision. However, trustors in a high construal level mindset likely consider all apologies as simple statements of regret, regardless of the attributional information they contain. We find support for this argument in four laboratory experiments. This research nuances the idea that to restore trust by means of an apology, the trustee must only use an effective attribution for a negative outcome. We also present a more realistic understanding of the process leading from apologies to trust than has been offered in previous work by simultaneously considering the role of the trustor and that of the trustee in the trust restoration process.