Research in Progress

“Team Chemistry: Apologizing Beats Blaming on the Basketball Court” (with Russell Golman)

Apologizing to teammates for a mistake or blaming teammates for their mistakes superficially appear to be forms of cheap talk that theoretically should have no consequences, but responsibility exchange theory posits that these communications, which attribute responsibility for mistakes, impact the social image and self-image of both the communicator and the target of communication. As a result, these communications have implications for interpersonal relationships between team members, i.e., apologies and finger-pointing do have consequences.  In a pilot study of 31 games, we tested whether team performance correlates with whether team members apologize for their own mistakes or blame each other, using an original dataset of on-court communications during professional basketball games.  We found that conditional on a mistake occurring and being communicated about, the probability that the communication takes the form of an apology (a blame) increases (decreases) with the performance of the team across the season.  We are in the process of applying for funding to expand our dataset.

“The Effect of Failing to Thank and Failing to Apologize in Relationships” (with George Loewenstein).

In order to explore the impacts of failing to thank and failing to apologize in more naturalistic settings, we conducted two autobiographical recall studies. In the “Originator” study (N = 206), participants recalled a situation in which (1) they did something that positively impacted another person and they were thanked, or (2) were not thanked, or (3) they did something that negatively impacted another person and they apologized, or (4) did not apologize. In the “Receiver” study (N = 220), participants were asked to recall situations from the other person’s perspective in each of those four situations. In addition to describing the event, participants answered questions about the emotions they felt, characteristics of the event, the impact the action had on their relationship, and the impact the event had on their and the other person’s subsequent behavior. Responses from both Originators and Receivers indicated that thanking could improve relationships relative to not thanking, and responses from Receivers indicated that apologizing could mitigate the damage of offenses. Furthermore, the results suggest that many people may neglect to thank or apologize partly because they underestimate its value to the other person. Both in the case of favors and also in the case of offenses, the person who failed to thank or apologize reported less damage to her relationship than the person who would have been the recipient of such communication.

“When to promote and when to play down the self? Revealing negative information to create a positive impression” (with Andras Molnar and Silvia Saccardo)

Reporting one’s successes to others can require a delicate balance of revealing the information without coming across as a braggart and without making others feel threatened. One potential strategy to deal with this is to self-deprecate, or simultaneously reveal competence-decreasing information. We theorize that people engage in costly self-deprecation in order to enhance perceived warmth. In a series of studies (N = 1,023), we find that this is indeed the effect of self-deprecation, but only when the status of the listener is lower than that of the speaker; when listener status is higher, self-deprecation is more detrimental than self-promotion. In a hypothetical study, we find that people make choices in line with this. We are currently examining this with real, incentivized communication choices.