The right (and wrong) way to apologize

There is a right way and a wrong way to apologize, psychologists say. Over the course of the past two weeks, we’ve seen two high-profile examples that fall somewhere in between.

On October 29, actor Anthony Rapp accused actor Kevin Spacey of making sexual advances toward him at a party in 1986. Rapp was 14 at the time; Spacey was 26. The story was originally reported by BuzzFeed News.

The following day, Spacey posted a statement on Twitter that read, in part, “I’m beyond horrified to hear this story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”

Spacey then pivoted from the serious allegations against him to confirming a longstanding rumor about his sexual orientation. “I have had relationships with both men and women,” he wrote. “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man.”

On Thursday, five women accused Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct; two said the actor and comedian undressed and masturbated in front of them in a hotel room in 2002. The story was first reported by The New York Times.

C.K. issued a statement Friday that began, “I want to address the stories told to the New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not. These stories are true.”

Though both Spacey and C.K.’s statements acknowledged at least potential wrongdoing, they did so very differently.

Spacey said he has “a lot of respect and admiration” for his accuser. He claimed to not remember the encounter, arguing that he was drunk and that it was a long time ago. Spacey did, however, employ the word “apology.”

Nowhere do the words “apology” or “sorry” appear in C.K.’s statement, but he too addressed his accusers by name. He also took responsibility for his actions — no “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.” He acknowledged the lessons he’s learned about the complexities of power (being admired by younger comedians) and expressed remorse.

C.K. concluded his statement by writing, “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”

How to say ‘I’m sorry’

“Comprehensive apologies are powerful tools that transgressors can use to promote reconciliation with the people they have hurt,” psychologist Karina Schumann wrote in a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. “However, because many apology elements require transgressors to admit fault, express shameful emotions and promise change, transgressors often avoid these threatening elements and instead choose to use more perfunctory apologies or even defensive strategies.”

Schumann, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, says there are three “core” elements of a good apology:

Express remorse, by saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize,” as well as regret, by saying “I feel terrible” or “I regret it.”

Accept responsibility by stating, “I take full responsibility” or “I’m truly sorry for” whatever you did.

Offer to repair the problem you caused by saying what you will do to fix it or by telling the person you’ve hurt how you honestly feel about them.

If appropriate, Schumann says, an apology may require additional elements:

An explanation of your words or actions.

A promise that you will behave better in the future.

Acknowledgment that you understand how your victim has suffered.

Admission of wrongdoing, such as “It was wrong of me to say the things I said” or “I shouldn’t have spoken poorly about you.”

A request for forgiveness.

Equally important to what you do or say is what you don’t do or don’t say.

“Transgressors may … try to protect themselves from the negative consequences of committing an offense by responding with defensive strategies,” Schumann said. “These defensive strategies can be temporarily beneficial to the transgressor by helping restore his or her self-worth but may do so at the cost of aggravating the victim and hindering reconciliation.”

Four things, she says, can torpedo even those most well-intentioned apologies:

Justifying your words or actions by defending your behavior: “I’m sorry that I kicked you out, but I did it for the right reasons.”

Blaming your victim for any or all of what you did or said: “If you gave me more freedom, I wouldn’t feel the need to be dishonest.”

Making excuses: “I was busy and in a hurry.”

Minimizing or downplaying the consequences of your actions: “I’m sorry if I upset you”; “it’s in the past”; “it was just a joke.”

“One of the unfortunate certainties of life is that we sometimes hurt people we care about,” Schumann wrote. “But if managed well, hurtful events can be transformed into constructive experiences that might even improve the relationship between the transgressor and the victim.”

The life-saving message in Logic’s hit song

“I’ve been on the low / I been taking my time / I feel like I’m out of my mind / It feel like my life ain’t mine / Who can relate?”

The opening lines of Logic’s most successful song to date are, quite literally, a cry for help. The title of the track, “1-800-273-8255,” is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In a series of tweets the week the song was released, the 27-year-old rapper explained the motivation behind his music. “Over the years so many of you guys have told me that my music has helped you through so many tough times,” he wrote. “Many of you have told me its even saved your life. I’m beyond humbled. But I felt I haven’t done enough. … I made this song for all of you who are in a dark place and can’t seem to find the light.”

Logic found himself in his “dark place” in late 2015, according to an interview with the New York Post.

“I was so scared because I was thought I had to work, work, work, because I thought I might only be around for five years,” Logic said. “I thought I wasn’t good enough to last.”

Logic found his proverbial “light” by learning the power of one word to deal with his anxiety: no.

“I turn down really well-paid shows all over the world because I want to spend more time with my wife and myself,” he told the Post. “I could sit here and think, ‘I got all these people around me that I need to pay,’ which is true … but ain’t nobody getting paid if I’m dead.”

The first verse of “1-800” is sung from the perspective of a person who has given up on their life and is ready to end it. The second verse, fronted by Alessia Cara, showcases the response of a suicide hotline crisis worker.

“It’s holding on though the road’s long / And seeing light in the darkest things / And when you stare at your reflection / Finally knowing who it is / I know that you’ll thank God you did”

The song ends with a verse featuring Khalid, again from the perspective of the suicidal caller but who now realizes the endless possibilities of the future.

“I don’t wanna cry anymore / I wanna feel alive / I don’t even wanna die anymore / Oh I don’t wanna / I don’t wanna / I don’t even wanna die anymore”

As part of a contest to be featured on the cover of Logic’s album “Everybody,” fans submitted videos detailing how much the the rapper’s music means to them. He shared some of them on Twitter.

“When I was alone with myself, the stress was unlike any other time of the day,” said Faith Martinez, 18, fighting back tears. “I’d put my headphones in, and it would all subside, because I knew that there was someone out there that cared for their fans so much that if I took away my life the way I had thought about, he would be hurt, and somebody would care that I was gone.

“I put it on until the end, and I stood up, and I kept going,” she said. “His music helps people keep going, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said, “The impact has been pretty extraordinary. On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service.” Overall, calls to the hotline are up roughly 33% from this time last year.

“We can certainly attribute and have seen call increases relative to tragic events and alarming portrayals of suicide in the media — anywhere from (musicians) Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington’s suicides, and (the Netflix show) ’13 Reasons Why,’ ” Draper said. “But here’s what’s really important: Logic is generating calls with a song about getting help and finding hope. It’s not focusing on tragedy or suicide. In fact, he’s starting conversations about suicide prevention, as opposed to suicide.”

The video for “1-800,” released last week by Def Jam Recordings and Visionary Music Group, has racked up more than 12 million views on YouTube. The seven-minute short film illustrates the story of a young man, beginning when he is just a baby.

His happy childhood is followed by difficulties in high school — extreme bullying and struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity — which cause serious strife with his friends and family. One day, he decides he’s had enough, collapses in tears and raises a gun to his head, ready to pull the trigger — but he doesn’t. Instead, he calls the suicide hotline.

The story flashes forward to the man’s wedding, where his father is standing by his side. The plot comes full circle, ending with the birth of his own son.

The message: It gets better. It always gets better.

“In many ways, Logic’s video and song completely embody this message that everybody can take an action to prevent suicide,” Draper said. “A lot of people think that it requires a professional or even a hotline. But the fact is that while those are extremely helpful — and I would always counsel somebody to consider those options — what we also know is that most suicides are prevented by people being caring with one another.

“How, when a person in your life is in crisis, can you help them get through it?”

Logic is scheduled to perform his inspirational hit live Sunday night on MTV’s 2017 Video Music Awards.

“This past year, our audience was forced to say goodbye to musicians too soon because of suicide,” said Garret English, executive producer of the 2017 VMAs. “We want to do more than remember these artists. We want to remind people that suicide is preventable and that there are ways to get help and feel better if you’re struggling emotionally.

“Logic’s song ‘1-800-273-8255’ is not only a phenomenal track, but it has struck a chord with its inspiring message of hope, and we are honored to offer the VMA platform so it can reach even more young people.”

Draper said, “It’s not just about the calls; it’s about increasing awareness about suicide, and suicide prevention in particular. The calls don’t even begin to count the number of people who, just by listening to the song and hearing the lyrics, feel more hopeful and less alone. There’s really no measuring that impact.”

Why you shouldn’t schedule anything important for 2 p.m.

Energy drinks are a $2.8 billion-a-year business in the United States alone, built on the promise of helping you push past that “2:30 feeling.”

Some people are early birds and others are night owls, but one thing many people have in common is a feeling of sluggishness in the afternoon. This is in large part due to your circadian rhythm, a roughly 24-hour “master clock” that regulates hormones in your brain — including, most prominently, the ones that make you feel tired or awake.

But you don’t just experience a physical lack of energy. Your brain’s reward processing system also takes a hit, according to a study published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology

In the simplest terms, this system is responsible for helping you weigh potential risks vs. rewards, and arrive at a decision as far as what — or what not — to do.

Jamie Byrne, the study’s lead author, says convention wisdom has been that reward response is driven by “reward-related factors,” such as the relative appeal of a reward ($10 vs. $100, for example) and “internal factors,” such as whether you are an optimistic or pessimistic person.

“This study is testing a third component that may be relevant to this relationship: time of day,” said Byrne, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Swinburne. “Our best bet is that the brain is ‘expecting’ rewards at some times of day more than others, because it is adaptively primed by the circadian system.”

Expected vs. unexpected rewards

Byrne and her colleagues recruited 16 healthy young men who worked normal daytime hours and hadn’t done any recent long-haul travel, which could have resulted in jet lag. The men were asked to perform a gambling exercise while inside an MRI scanner, so blood flow in their brains could be monitored in real time.

The researchers said existing literature has found that an area of the brain known as the left putamen is a “core component of reward-related function in humans,” and so they structured their study to observe subjects’ activation in that area at three times of day: 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Of these, the lowest levels observed were at 2 p.m.

To put it simply: Rewards we receive in the morning or evening seem to come as more of a surprise than rewards we get in the afternoon. That surprise factor causes certain parts of the brain to light up more. This is a consequence of what is known as our “primitive brain,” when our ancestors were hunter-gathers. If they were going to venture out in search of food, for example, they would have done so during daylight hours; doing so at night would have presented an unnecessarily elevated risk.

“The human reward system is primed to be more active during daytime hours when reward potential is high and risk relatively low, and less active overnight when this balance is reversed,” the researchers wrote, citing “Mood and Temperament,” a 2000 book by University of Notre Dame psychology professor David Watson.

“Outside of ‘time of day’ variables, multiple lines of evidence suggest that neural activation is higher in rewards regions in response to unexpected rewards, compared to expected rewards,” Byrne said. “A good analogy for this is your response to a surprise birthday party in comparison to a planned birthday dinner. Both are rewarding events; however, when the rewards are unexpected, your brain has to work harder to understand what is happening.”

Implications for daily life

Prior research has shown that it might be harder for you to think clearly, exercise good judgment and avoid making mistakes in the afternoon. This study is provides more evidence that it’s not only what you do that matters, but when you do it.

Science has shown there are many ways to optimize daily life activities around your circadian rhythm.

Psychologist Eric Barker says you should always organize your to-do list from worst to best, knocking out the things you don’t want to first, since “your self-control is at its peak first thing in the morning.” Save the mindless tasks for the afternoon, he says.

“Some fitness gurus recommend working out first thing in the morning, because that’s when you’re least likely to have scheduling conflicts and therefore more likely to exercise regularly,” says Robert J. Davis, author of “Fitter Faster.” But you actually perform best at exercise later in the day, he says.

Even weight loss can be tied to when, not just what, you eat. “Skipping meals or eating too few calories earlier in the day appears to stack the odds against us,” says nutritionist Lisa Drayer, a CNN contributor. “More and more research points to the fact that when you front-load your calories instead, you have a much better chance of shedding pounds.”

Investigating how to better treat diseases affected by the body’s internal clock — such as depression, substance abuse and sleep disorders — is something Byrne would like to study next.

“A range of evidence suggests that circadian rhythms are less robust in people vulnerable to depression and bipolar disorders, and we have shown that depression is indeed associated with a blunted circadian reward rhythm,” she said.

She thinks patients could benefit from a more precise focus on when they receive their treatment, maximizing rewarding experiences in the middle of the day and minimizing them at night.