Sorry, Not Sorry: The Advantages of Never Apologizing


David Tennant is so, so sorry.

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” sang Elton John in G melodic minor back in 1976. The lyrics of his mournful ballad ring true today and express a sentiment much older than Elton John himself: saying sorry and owning your mistakes is hard. Thankfully new research by Tyler Okimoto at the Univerity of Queensland in Australia claims that there may be personal benefits in never apologizing for the things you’ve done wrong.

Though this may sound like a good thing, it presents a bit of a paradox that pits our beliefs against reality. Most people believe it would be better on a moral and psychological level to accept responsibility for our misguided actions. Research exists to back up this position, too. Being apologized to is a sort of moral restitution for the victim. It gives them power and the ability to choose whether to reject the apology or accept it. Control shifts from the offender to the offended when forgiveness is on the line. Whether or not the victim chooses to take the moral highground and offer mercy or withhold it, this sense of power can soften the negative effects of the original wrongdoing.

There are even some benefits to apologizing for the person who did something wrong. By accepting and acknowledging what they did is wrong, they can relieve stress and anger, minimize future repercussions, and improve their public image. And if the apology is sincere, maybe they’ll even have less guilt for what they did.

Even though there are benefits to apologizing for both the offender and offended, people still refuse to do it. This is where Okimoto’s research steps in. Refusing to apologize doesn’t just allow people to avoid direct punishment. Refusing to give the victim the power to accept or deny an admission allows the offender to keep control over the person they did wrong. While this is morally questionable to an observer, the offender may not care.

Refusing to directly apologize also protects someone from betraying their ideologies. Apologies expose hypocrisy in a person’s character. By refusing to offer up guilt, people preserve a sense of self-worth by denying an inconsistency between the way they act and they say they act. If a person who is considered a moral authority (say a priest) does something wrong (sexual assault for instance) and they refuse to admit it, this prevents people from objectively considering him guilty—no matter how damning the evidence may be.

Okimoto conducted two different experiments. In the first, the participants were told to recall a time when they had apologized, refused to apologize, or didn’t resolve a conflict. The researchers asked the people to describe their feelings of power, control, and self-esteem as a result of the incident. If a person didn’t say they were sorry, but had strong feelings of power and control, it was considered being “true to themselves.”

In the second experiment, people were asked to remember an incident wherein they offended someone. Then they drafted a mock email to the victim either apologizing, refusing to apologize, or essentially ignoring the issue. The researchers asked how the exercise made them feel with regards to power and control.

Cindi May writes about the findings for Scientific American:

Reported transgressions varied greatly, from minor accidents and verbal altercations to adultery and criminal behavior. The consequent feelings, however, depended not on the perceived severity of the infraction, but rather the action (or inaction) that followed. Relative to people who took no action after their transgression, both those who apologized and those who refused to apologize felt better about themselves and expressed a higher sense that they were true to themselves. There was an added benefit, though, for refusing to apologize, as participants in the refusal condition reported the highest levels of perceived power.

These findings suggest that apologizing and refusing to apologize may both support an individual’s basic need for independence and power. Both actions can make people feel better about themselves, and allow them to believe that their actions align with their personal values.
 

These findings might make the offender feel better whether they apologize or refuse to, but without any research I can almost guarantee the victim will not look favorable upon a refusal to apologize. People make mistakes all the time. Sorry may be the hardest word, but it’s almost always the right word.


Attribution

“The Advantages of Not Saying You Are Sorry”, Scientific American


  • asdf

    when i apologize, i feel better about myself because i was man enough to admit my mistakes.

  • Dubious

    “If a person who is considered a moral authority (say a priest) does something wrong (sexual assault for instance) and they refuse to admit it, this prevents people from objectively considering him guilty—no matter how damning the evidence may be.”

    You are trying to convince your audience that a priest convicted of sexual assault wouldn’t be considered guilty by the public because he decided to plead not guilty? I’d love to see a substantial defense of that example. Just so you’re aware, in the U.S. if the priest pleads not guilty and is still convicted, it means the jury (i.e. the public) had decided he was guilty, and therefore “objectively” considered him guilty.

    This article is only logically reconcilable if you consider maintaining a stubborn mindset an advantage, which you very well might. But, burning bridges in the name of not admitting to your errors would not be considered an advantage by many.

    • http://theairspace.net/ Blake J. Graham

      In this example, the priest isn’t convicted by a court. In fact, it has nothing to do with courts at all.

      Let’s see if I can clarify: we tend to believe the people we trust and respect can do no wrong. If a priest (a moral authority) is accused of sexual assault, many would come to his defense and only believe he actually assaulted someone if he flat out said he did something wrong. “Innocent until proven guilty” prevails in the court of public opinion and refusing to apologize or admit a wrongdoing prevents objective guilt.

  • Justin

    Say sorry if you mean it but if you use it as a get out of jail free card you are a fake. Say it mean it!!

Commentary Ticker

  • Data Knows Best: Greatest TV Shows Get Ranked and Graphed
    March 26, 2014 | 10:50 am

    Every argument is better with charts and graphs. Sometimes a little linear regression can provide more insight than a long-winded report. GraphTV tests that theory by plotting the ratings of popular television shows. It all started with Breaking Bad. Data guru Kevin Wu was watching its fifth and final season and couldn’t help but think [...]

  • A Coin-Inspired National Spirit, Hopefully
    March 20, 2014 | 11:56 am

    The Lakota Nation, a group of seven Native American bands in North and South Dakota, voted to make a Bitcoin-like crypto-currency called MazaCoin their official currency, according to Forbes. Programmer and Lakota activist Payu Harris believes that the coin will help the Lakota people gain sovereignty over their land. “To be a truly independent state [...]

  • Smartguns and the Promise of Progress
    March 3, 2014 | 9:50 am

    With the recent Sandy Hook elementary school shooting (and the 44 school shootings since) still relatively fresh in our collective minds, and with Congress empirically unable to do anything to stop gun violence at all, it seems slowing, if not stopping, the gun violence epidemic has fallen on a strange coalition of gun manufacturers, Silicon [...]

  • Watch: Movies Without Imaginary Friends
    January 28, 2014 | 12:56 pm

    If you seriously haven’t watched Fight Club yet (or read the book by Chuck Palahniuk) stop and go do that right now. You’re fifteen years late to the craziest party. Okay, you’ve watched it now? Onwards. A visual effects specialist in New York accelerated himself to Internet fame in mid-January when he edited Tyler Durden [...]

  • The Racism of “Racism”: The Complicated Origins of the Term
    January 17, 2014 | 12:27 pm

    “Racism,” like race, was invented. The term “racism” has done a lot of heavy lifting for anti-racism advocates, helping to frame anyone discriminating by race as misguided. Just as with classism or sexism, not only does the word racism give name to an evil, it helps to create the thing as evil in the first [...]

  • RSSArchive for Commentary Ticker »

Join our mailing list!



Trending on The Airspace