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Opening Arguments

Sorry. Not

I'm sorry if you think is a silly post. Wait, actually I'm not:

Psychologists tend to be interested in these sorts of seemingly universal feelings, and recently a few researchers looked into just why it is so rewarding to avoid saying sorry. They asked people to recall transgressions—some as small as cutting someone off on the road, some as big as stealing—then asked these study participants if they had apologized or not and how they felt. The last step: participants could compose an email either apologizing or refusing to apologize.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably told your kid that apologizing will make you feel better. But what these researchers found is, in fact, the opposite. The email that refused to apologize made people feel much better than the one confessing to the deed and taking the blame.

At NPR, Shankar Vedantam spoke with researcher Tyler G. Okimoto, who explained his interpretation of the results this way:

“When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered,” he said. “That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth.”

Ironically, Okimoto said, people who refused to apologize ended up with boosted feelings of integrity.

I don't know why the findings are such a big surprise. Apoligizing puts you under others' control because you're confessing to a shorcoming and demonstrating that you care what they think about it. Not apologizing lets us keep our autonomy -- why wouldn't that make us feel better?