Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Hardest Word

By Tim Hannan

Linguistic analysis can distinguish between genuine and falsified expressions of remorse.

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Expressions of remorse following wrongdoing play an important role in interpersonal relationships, especially those of a close or intimate nature. Remorse is also influential in criminal cases, where the offender’s statement may be interpreted as a measure of repentance (and thereby influence the severity of a sentence), decisions concerning parole, or the assessment of risk of subsequent violence.

Given the potential benefits to the offender of faking remorse, it’s surprising that few studies have examined how one might reliably evaluate whether an expression of remorse is sincere. A recent study by researchers at Charles Sturt University has demonstrated that it may be possible to identify genuine apologies through linguistic analysis, providing a potentially useful, objective means of distinguishing between genuine and falsified expressions of remorse.

Prior investigations have reported that genuine expressions of remorse usually comprise five elements: a display of sadness, an apology, the acknowledgement that an important principle or rule has been broken, an indication that attempts will be made to avoid any repetition of the action, and an offer to make amends. For a genuine apology to be made, it is also necessary for the individual to appreciate the wrongness of his or her action, and the harm caused to the other.

While emotions such as...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.