The information from the study was unveiled during a Convocation presentation sponsored by the Grace A. Tanner Center for Human Values. Presented by lead Author and Communication Assistant Professor Kevin Stein, this semester’s Distinguished Faculty Honor Lecture offered a new perspective on the apology.
Stein said the study took about a year-and-a-half to gather all of the data and analyze, but the project had been something he had wanted to do for a much longer time.
“This may reflect a character flaw on my part,” Stein said during the lecture. “But I truly enjoy watching people make egregious errors and then seeing them provide creative explanations for those situations using whatever rhetorical skills they may, or may not, in many cases, possess.”
The study, conducted by Stein and his partner Matt Barton, associate professor of communication, was done by compiling the data from public apologies delivered over time by a variety of sources. Stein said celebrities, politicians, sports figures, international leaders and apologies from many other public personas were included in the 409 individual pleas for forgiveness that were examined.
Stein said his research is the first that has examined more than one apologetic text at a time as part of a content analysis, and tried to find a system to explain why people say the things they say when attempting to convey, “I’m sorry.”
Stein said he looked at several key variables including: the type of offense committed (adultery, bigotry), what apologia strategies were used (minimization, good intentions), how the apology was delivered (press conference, websites), and whether the party in question was male or female.
He said he was the most surprised to find that when he was separating apologies by type of offense there were a large number of apologies that fell into a category that couldn’t really be defined. He said, the category of other, was actually the second largest category in the study under type variables.
Overall, the study reports that there were a total of 15 different strategies used by those on the defense. It said that Mortification (accepting responsibility), Bolstering (deflecting damage by praising oneself), and Corrective Action (actually attempting to make up for the transgression) were found to be the predominant methods public figures used when making amends to their audience, whoever that may be.
Barton said he was surprised to find that though women may apologize less than men (151: 1,911 apologies), they tend to use violence more often than men do (39:15 percent) when committing an offense.
Stein said the convocation is just the beginning of disseminating the results of the study to the public. He said he and Barton are working on a journal publication, and they intend on building a website for teachers to use as an instructional tool when teaching apologia in the future.
A husband and father of five, Stein said finding time to focus on research can be difficult to balance with his teaching responsibilities, but he said he feels “intrinsically motivated” to pursue a further understanding of the way people use language to communicate with each other.
The Grace A. Tanner Center for Human Values Distinguished Faculty Honor Lecture was just one of the many opportunities provided by SUU’s Convocation lecture series this fall.
According to the website http://suu.edu/ss/acdc/convo/fall2011.html there will be another seven presentations between now and Nov. 15, including BYU graduate Ken Jennings who won 74 consecutive games on Jeopardy in 2004.
The next convocation on the schedule is “Funny in Farsi: An Evening with Firoozeh Dumas” in the Sterling R. Church Auditorium Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Community members Bonnie Blakely and George Grohs said they have been coming to Convocations for years and they feel as though the program is a tremendous asset to the community.
“These Convocations are an absolute gift to the community,” Blakely said. “As community members we love it.”
Grohs said he just wished that more people in the area knew about the lecture series and took advantage of the opportunity to attend. He said he finds it frustrating that the program isn’t more highly advertised than it is.
“I think a lot of community people don’t realize they are happening until five minutes before they start,” Grohs said.
New Convocation Director Raymond T. Grant said he is working hard to make convocations a community affair where any seeker of knowledge can attend, and enjoy a thought provoking presentation given by an influential motivator of the times.
For a complete schedule visit http://suu.edu/ss/acdc/convo/fall2011.html.