Discussions of social science research often seem to tell us more about how we like to think about social science research than they do about anything else. That was certainly the case for a report on NPR this week about apologies. In the broadcast, anchor Steve Innskeep and reporter Shankar Vedantam framed the discussion as shocking new information for parents -- going so far as to lightly suggest that parents should send their kids away from the radio (causing my nine-year-old to look at me conspiratorily.)
The big reveal that nine-year-olds shouldn't hear? No one likes to apologize. More than that, the study showed that not apologizing makes people feel better about themselves; you feel more empowered and more self-satisfied when you refuse to admit that you're wrong. Vedantam suggested that this flies in the face of the standard parental argument, "Look, just say you're sorry, you're going to feel better about yourself."
The thing is, that's not a standard argument for kids. I don't think I've ever heard a parent use it. The study's author Tyler G. Okimoto, a senior lecturer in business at the University of Queensland, noted that people often do feel better after apologizing -- though not as much better as they do after being asked to apologize and refusing.