Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 5-28-2014

Journal / Book Title

Social Psychology Quarterly


In recent years, U.S. and other Western media have inundated the public with celebrity apologies. The public (measured via representative opinion polls) then expresses clear ideas about who deserves forgiveness. Is forgiveness highly individualized or tied to broader social, cultural, and cognitive factors? To answer this question, we analyzed 183 celebrity apologies offered between October 1, 2000, and October 1, 2012. Results are twofold and based in both cultural and social psychological perspectives. First, we found that public forgiveness is systematically tied to discursive characteristics of apologies—particularly sequential structures. Certain sequences appear to cognitively prime the public, creating associative links to established cultural scripts of atonement and rendering some apologies more successful than others. Second, public forgiveness is contingent on broader patterns of social interaction. Like many persuasive messages, successful apologies exist as ordered cultural moments steeped in characteristics of the social relations that bind offenders, victims, and a broader audience of onlookers.


DOI: 10.1177/0190272514530412

Published Citation

Cerulo, Karen A., and Janet M. Ruane. "Apologies of the rich and famous: Cultural, cognitive, and social explanations of why we care and why we forgive." Social Psychology Quarterly 77, no. 2 (2014): 123-149.