The Role of Apologies in Sustaining Cooperation: An Experimental Investigation

54 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020

See all articles by Jonathan Yeo

Jonathan Yeo

Nanyang Technological University

Shi Zhuo

University of Warwick

Date Written: August 23, 2020


Apologies are widely used across various cultures and have likely evolved to support mutual cooperation. In this paper, we conduct an experiment examining how apologies affect cooperation in a repeated public goods game. In two separate treatments, participants are given the option to say “I am sorry” either publicly, or privately to group members. In the control, no such option is available. We find that the opportunity to apologise leads to an increase in contributions of 0.37 and 0.61 standard deviations in the private and public treatments respectively. Generally, “norms of apology” exist — participants apologise when contributing less than others, subsequently raising their contributions. Recipients of apologies also believe that apologisers care more about others and will contribute more. Consequently, in groups, adhering to apology norms is associated with greater salience of cooperative norms — this is especially so in the public treatment where there is common knowledge.

Suggested Citation

Yeo, Jonathan and Zhuo, Shi, The Role of Apologies in Sustaining Cooperation: An Experimental Investigation (August 23, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan Yeo (Contact Author)

Nanyang Technological University ( email )

HSS 04-53, 14 Nanyang Drive
637332 (Fax)

Shi Zhuo

University of Warwick ( email )

Gibbet Hill Rd.
Coventry, West Midlands CV4 8UW
United Kingdom

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