A second possible benefit of standing one's ground in the face of an accusation is saving face. No one wants to admit to being a hypocrite. Inherent in an apology is the admission that one's behavior failed to align with personal values and morals, as people generally don't apologize for actions they believe are right and just. Thus when we admit that we are wrong, we expose the fact that we may talk the talk, but we do not walk the walk. By refusing to apologize, we deny any incongruity between belief and action, thus preserving a sense of authenticity and self-worth. Though Deen admitted she used a racial slur, she also challenged anyone who is sinless to “please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me.” In doing so she tried to convey that she is no more of a hypocrite than anyone else.
Two recent studies by Okimoto and colleagues confirm that the costs and benefits of an apology may be more complex than once thought. In considering these studies, it is important to recognize that saying you are sorry and refusing to do so both involve intention, action, and purpose on the part of the wrongdoer. Thus, although apologizing and refusing to apologize may, on the surface, appear to be polar opposite responses, they may not have opposite consequences for the offender. The studies by Okimoto and colleagues demonstrate that resisting apology offers some surprising perks.
In both of these studies, participants remembered instances in which they offended someone or caused them to be upset. In the first study, participants recalled an offensive incident that had a specific outcome: (a) they apologized (apology condition), (b) they refused to apologize (refusal condition), or (c) they failed to take action (inaction condition). Participants also detailed the specific transgression and their perceived severity of the offense. Finally, participants reported how they felt about themselves after the event, rating their feelings of power and control, and their sense of self-esteem. They also reported the extent to which they were "true to themselves."
Reported transgressions varied greatly, from minor accidents and verbal altercations to adultery and criminal behavior. The consequent feelings, however, depended not on the perceived severity of the infraction, but rather the action (or inaction) that followed. Relative to people who took no action after their transgression, both those who apologized and those who refused to apologize felt better about themselves and expressed a higher sense that they were true to themselves. There was an added benefit, though, for refusing to apologize, as participants in the refusal condition reported the highest levels of perceived power.
In the second study, participants were also asked to recall an incident in which they offended someone or caused them to be upset, but for this study, participants did not reflect on the outcome of the actual event. Instead, after recalling the infraction, participants either drafted an email to the victim apologizing for their actions (apology condition), drafted an email to the victim in which they refused to apologize for their actions (refusal condition), or took no action (control). Finally, participants reported how they felt about themselves as a result of the exercise. Relative to taking no action, drafting an apology and drafting a refusal to apologize both elicited greater feelings of control and power, and a sense of consistency in personal thought and action.
These findings suggest that apologizing and refusing to apologize may both support an individual's basic need for independence and power. Both actions can make people feel better about themselves, and allow them to believe that their actions align with their personal values. That said, the studies by Okimoto and colleagues did not examine the victims' responses to offenders' actions, and victims will undoubtedly react differently to apologies than they will to refusals to apologize.