The offense threshold hypothesis seems like a polite way of saying that men can be a bit oblivious. Importantly, though, male participants in the second study also seemed oblivious to the severity of others' offenses, which led the researchers to speculate that men might simply be less attuned to social offenses in general, while women may be more socially attuned. This idea is also supported by research suggesting that women tend to be more empathic and guilt-prone. Another way to interpret the results, of course, is that women may sometimes be over-attuned, apologizing for things that other people do not find offensive or even notice. The point, though, is that neither gender is "right" per se -- it's just a matter of differing perspectives.
Other obstacles are less gender-specific. It can be difficult to admit being wrong (we are well-equipt with psychological defenses and self-serving biases to protect us from facing this possibility), and it can be scary to make oneself vulnerable to the possibility of rejection, since an apology, no matter how heartfelt, does not always elicit forgiveness.
I remember the first time I realized that I was an over-apologizer -- during soccer practice as a kid, I said sorry every time I kicked the ball a little too hard or soft or too far to one side. I wasn't even aware that I was doing this until one of my teammates said, "You don't have to say sorry!" and it hit me that my sorries were helping no one, especially not my own confidence. Over the years I have made an effort to cut back on unnecessary apologies. Here is some of the best anti-apology advice I have collected:
1. Say "thank you" instead. When your roommate or significant other does the dishes, rather than apologizing for not having done them yourself (which just burdens them with the need to reassure you), express your gratitude (which makes them feel happy and appreciated, and probably more apt to voluntarily do the dishes again later). This only applies, of course, when you generally do your share of the chores -- if your roommate is in a huff because your never help out, thanking them for what they really should not have had to do may only annoy them further.
2. Save it. Saying sorry too much can trivialize the act of apology, making the important ones carry less weight. Don't cry wolf -- save it for when you really need it, and mean it.
3. Try not to mess up in the first place. Easier said than done, of course. But if you know you have a (preventable) bad habit that negatively affects other people, better to try to avoid doing it in the first place, or at least avoid repeating it, rather than just apologizing after the fact.
4. Embrace your imperfections. You don't have to apologize for having a bad hair day, for spilling on your shirt, or for needing three attempts to parallel park. Read more on self-compassion here and in this older post.
5. Get support. If you are racked with guilt and shame even when you've done nothing wrong, professional support may be helpful for addressing underlying self-worth issues or a history of trauma.
And if you are someone who doesn't apologize frequently or comprehensively enough, you can read more about the art of apology in psychiatrist Aaron Lazare's useful and interesting book, On Apology.
The featured article:
Schumann K, & Ross M (2010). Why women apologize more than men: gender differences in thresholds for perceiving offensive behavior. Psychological science, 21 (11), 1649-55 PMID: 20855900