ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2024, Vol. 56 ›› Issue (4): 515-530.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2024.00515

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles    

Remembering the past makes consumers easier to forgive: The influence of nostalgia on forgiveness and its internal mechanism in service failure

WANG Lili, ZHANG Xuan(), CHEN Hanyu   

  1. School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China
  • Published:2024-04-25 Online:2024-01-18
  • Contact: ZHANG Xuan


Memories of personal experiences, intimate interactions, and significant life events are examples of nostalgia. Nostalgia affects not only individuals’ cognitions and emotions but also their behaviors. One prosocial behavior that nostalgia might encourage is forgiveness, which is a process that involves decreasing unpleasant feelings and fostering amiable and positive attitudes toward others. We propose that nostalgia positively affects forgiveness. Furthermore, nostalgia can also affect empathy, an altruistic and other-focused emotional experience. Previous research has demonstrated that empathy leads consumers to view issues from the standpoint of service providers, thereby increasing their forgiveness. Thus, we propose that empathy mediates the effect of nostalgia on forgiveness.
Six experiments were performed to test the proposed hypotheses (see Table 1). Experiment 1a (149 adults, 33 men) employed real restaurant decorations to activate nostalgia. Common service failure cases were utilized to measure consumers’ forgiveness. Experiment 1b (210 adults, 82 men) demonstrated that both individual and collective nostalgia promoted forgiveness. Experiment 2a (130 adults, 57 men) used snack ads to validate the mediating role of empathy in the effect of nostalgia on forgiveness. Furthermore, potential alternative explanations such as focalism, relaxation, self-esteem, and positive affect were excluded. Experiment 2b (130 adults, 60 men) demonstrated that empathy was a mediator, and perceived severity was excluded. Experiments 3 (300 adults, 142 men) and 4 (240 adults, 109 men) showed that brand image type (warmth vs. competence) and service failure severity moderated the effect of nostalgia on forgiveness. Specifically, for warm brands and for minor service failures, nostalgia promoted forgiveness. For competence brands and for severe service failures, there was no effect of nostalgia on forgiveness.
In summary, Experiments 1a and 1b provided compelling evidence for the main effect of nostalgia in promoting forgiveness, as observed in real service failure scenarios. Experiments 2a (see Figure 1) and 2b (see Figure 2) demonstrated the critical role of empathy as a mediator, effectively eliminating alternative explanations such as focalism, relaxation, self-esteem, positive affect, and perceived severity. Finally, Experiments 3 (see Figure 3) and 4 (see Figure 4) confirmed the moderating role of brand image type and service failure severity, shedding light on the nuanced interaction between nostalgia and forgiveness under varying degrees of service failure.
The current study investigated the relationship between nostalgia and forgiveness and found that individuals with high (vs. low) nostalgia perceptions are more forgiving, with empathy mediating this effect and brand image type and service failure severity moderating it. This study adds to the body of knowledge regarding the role of nostalgia and offers a new altruistic effect: increasing consumer forgiveness. Furthermore, this study contributes to the research on the antecedents of forgiveness. This study has substantial practical implications for marketing practitioners. Marketing managers can create more successful consumer interaction tactics by utilizing nostalgia. This approach helps them address service failures and provide better resolution. Marketing professionals can use this understanding to create more successful strategies for resolving customer complaints and increasing overall customer satisfaction by leveraging nostalgia’s potential to promote forgiveness.


Key words: nostalgia, forgiveness, empathy, brand image type, service failure severity