If you think you hear women saying "I'm sorry" more than men, you're right. Women apologize more often than men do, according to a new study.
But it's not that men are reluctant to admit wrongdoing, the study shows. It's just that they have a higher threshold for what they think warrants reparation. When the researchers looked at the number of apologies relative to the number of offenses the participants perceived they had committed, the researchers saw no differences between the genders.
"Men aren't actively resisting apologizing because they think it will make them appear weak or because they don't want to take responsibility for their actions," said study researcher Karina Schumann, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. "It seems to be that when they think they've done something wrong they do apologize just as frequently as when women think they've done something wrong. It's just that they think they've done fewer things wrong.”
The findings might have implications for how men and women communicate with each other, she said.
Should you apologize?
Although women are often stereotyped as the more apologetic sex, there is little empirical evidence to back this assumption.
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Schumann and her colleagues conducted two studies to see if genders do indeed differ in how often they apologize, and if so, why this might be.
In one, 33 university students ages 18 to 44 kept an online dairy for 12 days documenting whether they apologized or did something they thought required an apology, even if they didn't actually say they were sorry. They also kept track of how often they felt someone had committed an offensive act against them that warranted an apology.
Women apologized more and reported committing more offensive acts, but both men and women apologized about 81 percent of the time when they deemed their actions offensive.
Men were also less likely to report being victims of wrongdoing. This led the researchers to investigate whether men are just not offended as easily, and less likely to think they've done something objectionable.
In the second study, 120 undergraduates rated how severe they thought a particular offensive was. For instance, they had to imagine they woke their friend up late at night, and because of the sleep disturbance, the friend did poorly on an interview the next day. Women rated the offenses as more severe than men did, and women were also more likely to say the friend deserved an apology.
The studies, detailed online Sept. 21 in the journal Psychological Science, were small and involved only university students, so the findings might not be applicable to all men and women in general.
Women might have a lower threshold for what requires an apology because they are more concerned with the emotional experiences of others and in promoting harmony in their relationships, Schumann speculated.
Recognizing that men and women may perceive situations differently may help the genders to get along.
"Neither men nor women are wrong when they disagree about whether or not an offense has occurred or whether or not an apology is desired," Schumann said. "It's just that they have different perceptions of an event that has occurred between them."
When one partners is angry and feeling victimized, thinking, "How can my partner love me if he isn't recognizing what he did," that person should consider that the other partner "might not be seeing the event the same way that they see the event," she said.
"So rather than assuming that your partner can read your mind or read your emotions accurately, you need to communicate to the partner what you're experiencing and from that communication, hopefully a successful reconciliation process can then occur."
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