London - To foreigners, it is endearing if not a little baffling – the ultra-polite British habit of apologising for things that are not necessarily our fault.
Now a study has found that saying a superfluous “I’m sorry” makes us appear more trustworthy.
The stereotype of the continually apologetic Brit, as depicted by actor Hugh Grant, has become a romantic comedy staple, amusing our American friends who clearly see the trait as a weakness.
Their own experts now suggest this could be far from the case.
Researchers at Harvard Business School have discovered there are in fact “significant” advantages to apologising for problems beyond our control – such as travel delays, a noisy restaurant or simply when someone else carelessly knocks into you.
Alison Wood Brooks, assistant professor of business administration and lead author of the study, said: “Superfluous apologies represent a powerful and easy-to-use tool for social influence.
“Even in the absence of culpability, individuals can increase trust and liking by saying ‘I’m sorry’ – even if they are merely sorry about the rain.”
The study, co-authored with the University of Pennsylvania, used a number of experiments to gauge the usefulness of the gratuitous “sorry”. In one test, a male actor approached 65 strangers – 30 of them women – at a rain-swept train station and asked to borrow their mobile phone. Half the time he simply made the request and the other half he prefaced it by saying: “I’m sorry about the rain!”
Almost half the strangers lent him their phone when he apologised – but just nine percent agreed to do so when he did not.
The same trend emerged during a laboratory experiment, in which 177 adults watched a video of a stranger approaching a delayed passenger at an airport and asked to borrow his or her phone.
Many more said they would lend the phone if the stranger apologised over the flight delay.
In another experiment, 178 students were told they were playing a financial computer game with a partner sitting in another room.
They were warned the computer would sometimes override their decisions.
Whenever this happened and their partner apologised for the computer, the student tended to rate him or her as more trustworthy, and became more generous towards them. - Daily Mail