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In the News

Psychology In The News: Sorry, Not Sorry

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

11th March 2024

New research reveals that the most effective apologies defy traditional gender stereotypes in language. Psychologists Polin et al (2023) wanted to explore how the content of apologies, as well as how closely they conform to gender stereotypes, influences their effectiveness.

Drawing on previous research, the researchers identified key features of masculine versus feminine speech patterns. Specifically, a 2003 paper characterised masculine language as projecting confidence, self-assurance, and assertiveness. Meanwhile, feminine speech tends to sound warmer, more nurturing, and more communal. Polin's team classified apologies as either ‘agentic’ (with stereotypical masculine qualities) or ‘communal’ (aligned with feminine norms).

The first of the three studies conducted by Polin et al analysed real celebrity apologies on X (formerly known as Twitter). On X, they examined 87 apology tweets from public figures like Lizzo, Kevin Hart, and Kendra Wilkinson. Female celebrities who used more dominant, assertive agentic language in their apologies received more likes and positive reactions. For every 1-point increase in dominant wording, women got 17,000 more likes. Male celebrities delivering apologies that used more communal language did not see the same levels of support.

In the second and third studies, researchers asked almost 800 participants to view emails of accounting, and nursing errors and subsequent apologies for these errors from both genders. In both professions, male and female apologisers were seen as more sincere and effective when going against stereotypical gender stereotypes. When women apologisers used more assertive, agentic language contrary to feminine norms, their apologies were viewed 9.7% more effective on average. Similarly, men's adoption of communal, warmer language patterns atypical of masculine speech boosted the perceived effectiveness of their apologies by 8.2%.

Therefore, this study suggests that there are advantages to be gained from violating the gender-related expectations of others. Next time you need to apologise consider embracing language outside of the expectations that others might have. The results of this study show it makes a significant difference in how well your apology is received!


  1. In Polin et al’s (2023) first study analysing celebrity apologies, what was found about the effectiveness of agentic language used by female celebrities? A)Use of agentic language decreased the effectiveness of apologies by female celebrities B) Use of agentic language increased effectiveness of apologies by female celebrities C) Agentic language did not affect reactions to female celebrity apologies D) Females received fewer likes when using communal language
  2. What comments can you make on the external validity of Polin et al’s research?
  3. Polin et al used content analysis to select the tweets for this study. Outline one strength and one weakness of content analysis, refer to this study in your answer.
  4. How could you create a practical application based on this research to reduce the issues of gender bias that women face in the workplace?


Polin, B., Doyle, S. P., Kim, S., Lewicki, R. J., & Chawla, N. (2023). Sorry to ask but … how is apology effectiveness dependent on apology content and gender? Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. (accessed 11.2.24)

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Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

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