Conciliatory gestures promote forgiveness and reduce anger in humans

Michael E. McCullough, Eric J. Pedersen, Benjamin A. Tabak, Evan C. Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Conflict is an inevitable component of social life, and natural selection has exerted strong effects on many organisms to facilitate victory in conflict and to deter conspecifics from imposing harms upon them. Like many species, humans likely possess cognitive systems whose function is to motivate revenge as a means of deterring individuals who have harmed them from harming them again in the future. However, many social relationships often retain value even after conflicts have occurred between interactants, so natural selection has very likely also endowed humans with cognitive systems whose function is to motivate reconciliation with transgressors whom they perceive as valuable and nonthreatening, notwithstanding their harmful prior actions. In a longitudinal study with 337 participants who had recently been harmed by a relationship partner, we found that conciliatory gestures (e.g., apologies, offers of compensation) were associated with increases in victims' perceptions of their transgressors' relationship value and reductions in perceptions of their transgressors' exploitation risk. In addition, conciliatory gestures appeared to accelerate forgiveness and reduce reactive anger via their intermediate effects on relationship value and exploitation risk. These results strongly suggest that conciliatory gestures facilitate forgiveness and reduce anger by modifying victims' perceptions of their transgressors' value as relationship partners and likelihood of recidivism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11211-11216
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - 2014


  • Cooperation
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Punishment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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