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Features : Editorial Last Updated: Oct 17, 2012 - 10:55:22 AM


Saying "I'm sorry": Do women apologize more than men?
By Steve Ferber
Oct 17, 2012 - 10:54:29 AM

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One more stereotype out the window, according to a study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Lead researcher Karina Schumann and colleagues conducted two creative studies to examine whether women, as is generally believed, apologize more than men. Their findings were revealing and no doubt will help couples improve their relationships, by understanding the dynamics behind what is called “apology behavior.”
The findings, in a nutshell: women and men apologize at the same frequency, that is, once a person has decided that they’ve “committed an offense” (that is, done something that deserves an apology), men and women apologize at the same rate. And in the same manner.
Yes, the study found, women do apologize more often, but only because they rate “offenses” differently than men. Explained Schumann, "It seems to be that when [men] 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 study reported: “Female and male transgressors apologized for an equal proportion of their offenses (approximately 81%). Moreover, there was no gender difference in how men and
women apologized. It appears that once men and women categorized a behavior as offensive, they were equally likely to apologize for it, and their apologies were similarly effusive.”
Schumann and colleagues created two studies to examine the gender differences in apology behavior:
Study 1 involved daily diaries, Study 2 asked participants to evaluate the perceived severity of specific transgressions. Some examples, from Study 2:
Scenario 1: College-aged participants imagined that they were two days late sending their section of a joint class assignment to their friend. Because of the delay, their friend had to postpone studying for a midterm.
Scenario 2: Participants imagined snapping at their friend after returning home grumpy from school.
Scenario 3: Participants imagined accidentally waking their friend at 3 a.m. Because of the disturbance, the friend attended a job interview the next morning after only a few hours of sleep.
As predicted, Study 2 revealed that men indeed rate transgressions less severely than do women.
And why does apology behavior matter? Explained the researchers: “[Apologies matter because] they reduce anger and aggression and promote forgiveness and relationship well-being (Darby & Schlenker, 1982; McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997; Ohbuchi, Kameda, & Agarie, 1989). Although apologies are not all-powerful, their general effectiveness suggests that gender differences in apology behavior could have significant implications for interpersonal interactions.”
The researchers added: “For example,
if women perceive offenses that their male romantic partners do not notice, women might interpret an absence of an apology as evidence that their partners are indifferent to their well-being. Similarly, men may regard their female partners as overly sensitive and emotional. Unlike previous interpretations that emphasized a gender difference in willingness to apologize, however, our interpretation does not imply that one gender is at fault for potential disagreements about whether an apology should be offered. Rather, we suggest that men and women unwittingly disagree at an earlier stage in the process: identifying whether or not a transgression has even occurred.”
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