Sorry, Not Sorry: EKU Professor Breaks the Stereotypes of Apologies

Published on April 01, 2024

By Sarah Bashford

Apologies can be like outdated sitcom reruns—overdone and predictable, or falling short of expectations. According to new research, it's time to rewrite the script and break typical gender stereotypes in order to make apologies more effective. Who knew saying “sorry” could be as refreshing as a plot twist? 

Dr. Beth Polin, associate professor of management at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), and several other scholars recently published “Sorry to Ask but… How Is Apology Effectiveness Dependent on Apology Content and Gender?” in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Applied Psychology. Through measuring the public’s response to celebrity apologies on social media as well as surveying research participants, the study found that apologies from women are more effective when using assertiveness and more task-oriented language; and apologies from men are more effective when they involve interpersonal sensitivity and benevolence.

In an interview with WEKU, Polin explained how breaking stereotypical gender roles could influence an apology’s effectiveness. 

“Males usually offer apologies with more agentic or task-focused language. So a counter-stereotypical apology for a male would be to offer an apology that is more communal in nature,” Polin said.

The “expectancy violation theory,” Polin further explained, analyzes how individuals respond to unanticipated violations of social norms and expectations. Overall, Polin concluded that language and behavior can be more effective for apologies when they contradict stereotypical standards and push past biological defaults.

Polin and co-authors previously published a study on the components of an apology in 2016, which recognized the importance of acknowledging responsibility in an apology. The research gained national attention from The Today Show, Psychology Today, U.S. News & World Report, CBS News and Teen Vogue, among others.

Polin teaches subjects such as management, organizational behavior, conflict navigation and leadership in EKU’s renowned College of Business. By initiating and engaging in research, Polin and other EKU faculty bring innovative ideas, creative academic collaboration and current, relevant topics to the classroom. EKU’s College of Business offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration with several concentration options—available on campus or 100% online.