College alum studies the art of the apology

Sometimes it’s not as simple as saying you’re sorry.

Ryan Fehr, class of ’05 and a doctorate candidate in psychology at the University of Maryland, exposed the psychology behind the apology last week in a lecture titled “But I Said I Was Sorry! On the Importance of Matching Apologies to Victim Self-Construals.”

The Nov. 12 lecture was part of the “Inaugural Young Alumni Lecture Series,” a series of presentations given by College alumni about their post-graduation experiences and studies.

Speaking to an audience mainly from the College’s psychology department, Fehr explained his studies on the act of apologizing and how one can give the best apology.

These studies involved the concept of “self-construals,” the perceptions people have about their own thoughts, feelings and actions in relation to themselves and others.

There are three types of self-construals: independent self-construals focus on individuality; relational self-construals focus on relating to others; and collective self-construals focus on one being part of a whole group.

Fehr’s studies showed that each type of self-construal prefers a different type of apology.

“People are looking for different things in apologies,” Fehr said.

The collective self-construal is most prevalent in East Asia, where people greatly prefer acknowledgement for an apology.

Fehr said that for Western cultures, it was shown the independent self-construal was most prevalent and therefore, the best type of apology is compensation. Basically, if you offend someone here, be prepared to pay up.

He also said apologizing to women can be a lot different than apologizing to men. A “sorry, bro, here’s 10 bucks,” just won’t cut it with a woman. When it comes to women, Fehr said it is best to assume they follow the relational self-construal. Therefore, use both acknowledgement and empathy while apologizing.

“Apologies are common and useful social tools,” Fehr said. “They reduce aggression, foster forgiveness and enhance customer satisfaction.”

Fehr also talked to the student members of his audience about going to graduate school and conducting their own research.

He said if students in science or psychology fields are interested in their own research programs for their undergraduate or even graduate studies, Fehr recommends looking into programs with the National Science Foundation.

Further information can be found at nsf.gov.