How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
A Good Excuse
What makes a good excuse? Here are three factors identified by Werner et al. (1985) which are found in many excuses.
A good excuse is external, coming from outside of the person. External factors include the weather, things falling over, and so on. Inanimate things like this are excellent as they have no intent and so no blame can occur.
My car broke down.
The wind caught it.
Other people are also external, although blaming others can cause a problem when they can deny being to blame. Even if they are not there, the person receiving the excuse may even decide to go and ask the people being blamed.
Richard did it.
Internal reasons include personal decisions, beliefs, attitudes and so on. If a person is found to have internal reason for doing something that is disapproved of, then they may be considered bad and may be faced with the anger of others. This is why people first try to convince others 'It wasn't me'.
Another factor that makes for a good excuse is that you had no control over whatever happened. Maybe you were too far away, were too weak, had no authority, etc. The bottom line is that you could not do anything about it, so it can hardly be called your fault.
I couldn't stop her.
I was unwell.
If you were in control, even if you were not the perpetrator, you could be accused of not intervening, being an accessory or otherwise being almost as bad as having done it yourself.
Intent is the worst part of any wrong act. It makes the perpetrator malicious. It makes them bad. The final part of the excuse equation is hence that even if you did do something, it was accidental and you still had the best of intentions.
Werner, B., Folkes, V.S., Amirkhan, J. and Verette, J.A. (1987). An Attributional Analysis of Excuse Giving: Studies of a Naive Theory of Emotion, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 2, 316-324