Sometimes 'sorry' makes things worse

"We know that people often don't want to admit that they have hurt feelings, so in some of the studies, we looked at how much people wanted to seek revenge," psychologist Dr. Gili Freedman said.
By Brooks Hays   |   Sept. 7, 2017 at 12:27 PM
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Sept. 7 (UPI) -- New research suggests a "sorry" doesn't numb the sting of a social rejection.

Social snubs are a part of life. Maybe you can extend only so many invitations for an activity or event. Or maybe you're trying to avoid a confrontation between two friends. But how do you reject someone, while minimizing the hurt they feel.

"Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way," Dr. Gili Freedman, a psychologist at Dartmouth College, said in a news release. "They often apologize, but that makes people feel worse and that they have to forgive the rejector before they are ready."

To find out how people handle social rejection, Freedman and her colleagues surveyed people waiting in lines at festivals in Hanover, New Hampshire.

When asked to write a rejection to a social request, to meet for a meal or share an apartment, participants included an apology, or "sorry," in 39 percent of responses. When participants were asked to rate how they felt when read a rejection, those given a response featuring an apology reported greater feelings of hurt.

Because people often don't want to admit to having hurt feelings, researchers coupled their survey with social experiments featuring face-to-face rejection.

"We know that people often don't want to admit that they have hurt feelings, so in some of the studies, we looked at how much people wanted to seek revenge," Freedman said. "Specifically, we looked at the degree to which rejectees imposed an unpleasant taste test of hot sauce on their rejectors."

Participants who were denied an invite to a hot sauce taste test with an apologetic response were more likely to request their rejector be served extra spicy hot sauce -- despite being told the person who denied their invite was especially sensitive to spicy foods.

Researchers detailed the results of their survey and social experiments in a new paper published this week in the journal Frontier is Psychology.

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