Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Refusing to apologize for errors - Short term benefits

Scientific American    [...] most apologies exact some toll on the offender, as it can be embarrassing to admit a mistake publicly or even to just one other person. And, as with Deen’s apology, the offender often suffers additional penalties as a result of the admission of guilt. Confession of a wrongdoing can damage a relationship, lead to loss of status or power, or even result in the termination of employment. These common costs may help explain the seemingly widespread reluctance to say, “I’m sorry.”  From politicians and professional athletes to friends and co-workers, denial of culpability is far too familiar.

Beyond avoiding the embarrassment and potential penalty associated with admitting a wrongdoing, new research by Tyler Okimoto and colleagues in Australia suggests that there are deeper internal motives for our refusal to apologize. Okimoto's research shows that those who refuse to express remorse maintain a greater sense of control and feel better about themselves than those who take no action after making a mistake.

Such findings may seem paradoxical, given the common wisdom that we should take responsibility for our actions and say we are sorry if we do harm. Indeed, research confirms the benefits of apologies for both victims and offenders. For victims, an apology serves as a form of moral restitution. When you apologize to a person you have offended, you convey a sense of power to that person. The victim can accept or reject the apology, and can extend or withhold forgiveness. As a result, the balance of power shifts from the offender to the offended.  Victims may assume a position of superiority when they take the moral high ground and offer mercy to the guilty party, or they may gain a sense of power over the transgressor by denying pardon. Thus for victims, the culprit's admission of guilt and contrition can be restorative.

There are upsides to apologies for the offenders too. By acknowledging personal mistakes and conveying remorse, offenders may diffuse anger and decrease the impending punishment or penalty, enhance their image in the eyes of the victim and other people, regain acceptance in a social group, or restore personal relationships. They may even reduce their own sense of guilt.

Given that apologies offer a relatively simple way to mend relations and heal wounds for victims and offenders, why do people refuse to apologize? Beyond escaping punishment, there may be some psychological benefits to standing one's ground. For example, adopting a self-righteous stance may feed one's need for power. If the act of apologizing restores power to the victim, it may also simultaneously diminish the power of the transgressor. Thus actively denying any wrongdoing may allow the offender to retain the upper hand . If one cannot deny an error entirely, minimizing the error may be the next best thing.  Perhaps one reason that many felt Deen’s apology rang hollow was that she attempted to mitigate the severity of her infraction by stating that she only made the racial slur once, with a gun pointed at her head. [...]


  1. Husbands know that their many apologies bring both short and long term benefits. But they have a stake in the continuing marital relationship. If you couldn't care less about a given relationship, that would make you less likely to apologize.

  2. Is this rocket science?

  3. Reb Doniel,I have a suggestion.

    "They", it seems, are hoping this story will just blow over. We can't let it happen!

    I challenge you, to bl'n not let three days go by without a post related to the kolko case. Until they start apologizing.

    I'm sure you dedicated followers will continue reading and commenting, and not let "them" throw the family under the rug.

  4. I would venture to suggest, when a mistake is so large, the implications so huge that it becomes almost impossible to admit a mistake. A person will find a million reasons why he is right and why he doesn't have to apologize.
    I don't want to suggest that is the reason in the case of Rav S, but I've seen enough cases where people stick to their positions against all normal reasoning.

  5. The scientific american study doesn't account for the unique Jewish concept of Daas Torah complex because that doesn't exist in the outside world. Surely, maintaining the illusory daas torah edifice that has been constructed plays a huge role in their consideration of admitting a mistake or wrongdoing. Their whole house of cards comes crumbling down if they admit something. While an average citizen faces potential consequences, they may not be so severe as the massive loss of political clout at stake here (or perceived to be at stake). Shame on us.


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