What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities.
 Oscar Wilde quotes

Flattery—the art of offering pleasing compliments—is one of the oldest and most commonly used of persuasion tactics. Instances of flattery also abound in the marketing context because making consumers feel good about themselves can often lead them to evaluate the flatterer positively. However, when prospective consumers are fully aware of a clear ulterior motive underlying the compliment, both prior research and intuition suggest that recipients will discount the flattering comments and correct their otherwise favorable reactions. In contrast, this research uses a dual attitudes perspective to show that even after consumers consciously discount a blatantly insincere compliment from the marketer, the original positive reaction (the implicit attitude) toward the marketer coexists with, rather than being replaced by, the discounted evaluation (the explicit attitude). Subsequently, the implicit reaction is manifested when cognitive capacity at the time of measurement is significantly constrained, while the explicit judgment is reported under unconstrained conditions.


The wronged don’t distinguish between coerced apologies and spontaneous ones, but outside observers do, according to a study in the March Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 92, No. 3, pages 418-433). What’s more, this insincerity-blindness may actually protect people’s self-esteem, says study author Jane Risen, a social psychology graduate student at Cornell University.

“You want to think of yourself-and have other people view you-as a kind and forgiving person,” Risen notes.

In the first in a series of studies, Risen and her advisor, Thomas Gilovich, PhD, brought 130 undergraduate students into the lab in pairs. The researchers then assigned one student to work with “Andrew” (a research assistant posing as a participant) on a puzzle requiring teamwork. Each correctly placed piece earned the team 25 cents. The other student observed the interaction alongside “Lynn,” another fake participant.

A few minutes into the experiment, Andrew received a phone call, and he gossiped for several minutes instead of working. After getting off the phone, Andrew continued to sabotage the real participant by giving unclear directions for completing the puzzle.

After time ran out, Andrew spontaneously apologized in one third of the trials. In another third, he apologized only after Lynn said, “I can’t believe you took a phone call…you really need to apologize.” And in the remainder of the sessions, Andrew did not apologize.

After the experiment, the real participants filled out surveys where they indicated what percentage of the money they felt each person should receive. The outside observers awarded Andrew only 31 percent of the money when he didn’t apologize, and they gave him even less-19 percent-when he apologized after being reprimanded. That figure jumped up to 34 percent when Andrew apologized spontaneously.

Andrew’s task partners were more generous, giving him 36 percent of the winnings when he didn’t apologize. What’s more, they did not distinguish between the heartfelt and coerced apologies, as they gave Andrew the same amount-about 40 percent-in either condition.

A follow-up experiment shed some light on why wronged people may be so quick to accept insincere apologies. In it, 67 participants read vignettes where an employee showed up late to work, getting his colleague into trouble. In half of the stories, the employee apologized to his colleague spontaneously, and in the other half he apologized only after being asked. The participants then imagined themselves accepting or rejecting the apology before rating themselves on a variety of positive and negative traits. After accepting the apology, participants tended to view themselves more positively than after they rejected the apology.

The phenomenon of people being quicker to accept apologies than outside observers is something that Risen has noticed in her everyday life.

“It’s often easier for you to forgive someone who has hurt you than…someone who has hurt a friend,” says Risen.

The Wall Street Journal:

A friend of mine recently started a conversation with these words: “Don’t take this the wrong way…”

I wish I could tell you what she said next. But I wasn’t listening—my brain had stalled. I was bracing for the sentence that would follow that phrase, which experience has taught me probably wouldn’t be good.

Certain phrases just seem to creep into our daily speech. We hear them a few times and suddenly we find ourselves using them. We like the way they sound, and we may find they are useful. They may make it easier to say something difficult or buy us a few extra seconds to collect our next thought.

Yet for the listener, these phrases are confusing. They make it fairly impossible to understand, or even accurately hear, what the speaker is trying to say.

Consider: “I want you to know…” or “I’m just saying…” or “I hate to be the one to tell you this…” Often, these phrases imply the opposite of what the words mean, as with the phrase, “I’m not saying…” as in “I’m not saying we have to stop seeing each other, but…”

Take this sentence: “I want to say that your new haircut looks fabulous.” In one sense, it’s true: The speaker does wish to tell you that your hair looks great. But does he or she really think it is so or just want to say it? It’s unclear.

Language experts have textbook names for these phrases—”performatives,” or “qualifiers.” Essentially, taken alone, they express a simple thought, such as “I am writing to say…” At first, they seem harmless, formal, maybe even polite. But coming before another statement, they often signal that bad news, or even some dishonesty on the part of the speaker, will follow.

“Politeness is another word for deception,” says James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department of the University of Texas at Austin, who studies these phrases. “The point is to formalize social relations so you don’t have to reveal your true self.”

Read the whole story: The Wall Street Journal