Who's sorry now? An Investigation of How Gender Shapes the Appearance and Judgment of Apologetic Faces
George, Meghan Louise
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Research suggests that successful apologies include key verbal components such as admitting responsibility and asking for forgiveness. However, there is limited research examining the nonverbal aspects of apology and specifically whether people have a mental representation of apologetic faces. In three studies, reverse correlation was used to examine mental representations and judgments of apologetic faces that differed by gender. In each study, a visual template of an apologetic face was created using the responses of participants who completed a perceptual judgement task designed to estimate peoples mental representations. In a second phase, a separate group of participants rated the apologetic face as well as the base face from which it was created on various apology- and gender-related characteristics. In each study, the generated apologetic face was consistently rated as being more apologetic, regretful, and remorseful than the base face, suggesting that peoples mental representation of an apologetic face can be approximated using reverse correlation. Sadness was the highest rated characteristic for each face and ratings of sadness significantly predicted ratings of apology for three of the four visual templates created, suggesting that sadness is an important nonverbal aspect of an apologetic face. Submissiveness also emerged as a significant predictor of apology for three of the four faces; by contrast, trustworthiness, was not found to be a consistent characteristic seen in these apologetic templates. Male and female perceivers did not differ significantly in their ratings, and this was true regardless of the gender of the generator and target face. However, women generated an apologetic face from a female base face that was later judged to be significantly more apologetic than the apologetic face generated by men. These results suggest that men and women agree on their evaluations of apologetic faces, despite differences in their mental representations. This work is the first to demonstrate that people hold mental representations of an apologetic face, and that sadness is a key characteristic perceived in faces generated to appear apologetic. Coupled with the literature on verbal apologies, the current research contributes to our practical and theoretical understanding of apology.