Though apology is a small word, it holds a considerable amount of clout when it comes to forgiveness. A new study indicated restitution without an actual apology may lead to a hollow forgiveness.

Conducted by researchers at the Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, the study involved 136 undergraduate psychology students. Each student was positioned in an individual cubicle, where he or she was informed raffle tickets for a $50 gift card would be given out in three rounds, with 10 tickets per round to be divided between each student and an unknown companion. They were also informed they may receive a note from their companion.

During round one, partakers were giving two of the 10 tickets to be divided between one’s self and one’s companion. In the second round they received nine of the tickets. While a handful were told the distributions of the tickets were made by the mate, others were informed it was all by chance.

In the course of the second round, a number of partakers received an apology note from their mate stating, “Sorry about the first round. I got carried away, and I feel really bad that I did that.” Other students received raffle tickets back from their partners as a method of restitution but without an apology. During the final stage partakers were given the opportunity to be in control of distribution.

With help of this observation, researchers were able to assess the correlation between apology, restitution, empathy and forgiveness; analyzing forgiveness in two ways. Through the exercise, and a questionnaire where participants reported how highly they rated their motivation to forgive, it was found "making amends can facilitative forgiveness, but not all amends can fully compensate for offenses."

More times than not, an apology is essential to mend damages, but it may lead to a silent forgiveness, whereas restitution without an “I’m sorry” may lead to a hollow forgiveness, which wrongdoers may possibly be treated better, but are not necessarily forgiven.

Researchers stated, “The results suggest that if transgressors seek both psychological and interpersonal forgiveness from their victims, they must pair their apologies with restitution. Apparently, actions and words speak loudest in concert”.

This study was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.