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September 30, 2010

"I'm Sorry" — Why women apologize more than men

Everyone knows it's so, and new research aims to tell us why.

Here's Sharon Jayson's story from yesterday's USA Today.


Women apologize more than men, but it's not because they commit more wrongdoing. They just think they do.

New research on apologies from Canadian psychologists finds that men have a "higher threshold" for bad behavior, meaning they just don't see "wrong" the same way women do, according to a study online in the journal Psychological Science.

Psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Ontario conducted two studies of 186 people, divided by gender. They found that men were less likely to be offended than women and were less likely to think they committed wrongdoing.

"The gender differences just sort of leapt out at us," says co-author Michael Ross, a psychology professor. "It was too big to ignore. It was just very clearly there."

In the first study, 33 men and 33 women completed online diaries for 12 days, describing instances in which they apologized to someone or did something that might have warranted an apology. That study found women more readily offered up a mea culpa. But the study also found that contrary to the stereotype, men didn't avoid apologizing or refuse to admit they were in the wrong. They were just as likely to apologize if they believed they were actually in the wrong.

Another study of 120 participants asked them to rate specific offenses, how much that action deserved an apology and how likely they were to say they were sorry for it.

"Men rated the offenses as less severe than women did," the study found.

"Part of the reason women apologize more is they have a lower threshold for what is offensive behavior," says Karina Schumann, lead author of the study to appear in print in November.

"It's not that men are always being insensitive or that women are always seeing offenses that aren't."

Schumann adds, "It's a different standard between men and women on how offensive behavior is, and sometimes results in men not apologizing for something that the female thinks they should."


Below, the abstract of the Psychological Science research paper.


Why Women Apologize More Than Men

Gender differences in thresholds for perceiving offensive behavior

Despite wide acceptance of the stereotype that women apologize more readily than men, there is little systematic evidence to support this stereotype or its supposed bases (e.g., men’s fragile egos). We designed two studies to examine whether gender differences in apology behavior exist and, if so, why. In Study 1, participants reported in daily diaries all offenses they committed or experienced and whether an apology had been offered. Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. There was no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. In Study 2, we tested this threshold hypothesis by asking participants to evaluate both imaginary and recalled offenses. As predicted, men rated the offenses as less severe than women did. These different ratings of severity predicted both judgments of whether an apology was deserved and actual apology behavior.


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September 30, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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This jibs with how I see adults treat children. The boys are praised for showing bravery and pushing limits while the girls are praised when being social little butterflies.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 5, 2010 9:55:14 AM

This doesn't jibe with my first spouse.... I guess being a Borderline means never having to say that you're sorry.....

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Sep 30, 2010 6:59:15 PM

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