November 18, 2004

Sorry survey

In order to commemorate the 70th anniversity of the game Sorry!, Parker Brothers has proclaimed November 15-21 as National Sorry Week (Nov. 15-21). They also hired the Opinion Research Corporation to do a survey, based on 1,020 telephone interviews, to see what Americans are sorry about and how often they say so.

This press release gives some details of the results. The featured point seems to be gender roles: men are 37% more likely to have apologized recently to their significant other than women are (56% vs. 41%). This appears to be based on self-reporting -- no figures are quoted for how often each sex reports themselves to have been apologized to. Neither are any figures given about how often respondents believe themselves to have been involved in behavior requiring an apology, in one direction or the other.

Apparently participants were asked about whether they had apologized for any of a list of specific acts. The examples given seem to be heavily weighted towards stereotypically male faults, and correspondingly got a higher percentage of male 'yes' responses:

  • Leaving a mess (44% compared to 37%, respectively)
  • Forgetting to take out the trash (29% compared to 19%, respectively)
  • Leaving dirty socks on the floor (30% compared to 16%, respectively)
  • Missing dinner (26% compared to 19%, respectively)
  • Not replacing the toilet paper roll (24% compared to 18%, respectively)
  • Drinking the last of the orange juice (23% compared to 14%, respectively)
  • Drinking from the milk carton and putting it back (22% compared to 10%, respectively)

I don't know whether there was a corresponding list of stereotypical female faults. My guess is not, but I haven't been able to find a complete list of the survey questions and the responses.

I also don't know how carefully respondents were questioned about what really constitutes an apology, an issue that Geoff Pullum has discussed several times.

At least a few journalists have taken the bait, called psychologists and other alleged experts, and banged out a story on this, and there are several polls in play asking people what they want apologies for (in Philadelphia, so far, it's the Schuylkill Expressway).

[Update: I wrote to the PR firm that put out the press release about the sorry survey, to ask for a copy of the survey questions and the answer distributions, but I haven't gotten any response so far. Meanwhile, more discussion of internet sorriness can be found here. ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 18, 2004 11:34 AM