Effects of sharing negative information during conversation

By Guest Author E. Corrada

Two women talking on a benchWhen two people talk, negative information is more likely to affect one’s perceptions toward something as compared to positive information.

Yoo conducted a survey of 114 undergraduate students who talked to another person based on a topic (midwestern university or cell phone) and type of context (positive, negative, or both).  The students were then asked to talk with this person and come up with a list of ten positive or negative aspects of their assigned topic.  For example, one pair had to come up with ten positive aspects of their given topic, and another pair had to think of ten negative aspects of their topic.  The pairs with combined information types were to think of five positive and five negative aspects of their given topic.  This was done to see if sharing negative information about a certain topic would change an individual’s view of that topic in a negative direction.

The results indicated that partners who discussed the negative aspects of a topic had the highest change of attitude in a negative way after the conversation.  The participants with both positive and negative information being discussed followed, and those that participated in only discussing positive information had the lowest change of attitude toward the target after conversation.

The other aspect of this study revealed that two people who share the same negativity about a subject are not going to like each other more because of their shared negativity.  The results for an increase in likability between partners were about the same for negative, positive, and combination information sharing.

Studies have shown that people regard negative information with more reverence than positive information, and are therefore more likely to pass it on.  This occurs in gossip quite frequently and is usually geared toward a target in a negative way.  Due to gossip’s negative aspect, it is important that people know when individuals engage in negative conversation about a target, people often believe that the information is true and begin to see the target in a negative light.  Gossiping can then cause a negative image about something to be spread throughout a community and eventually the image could be falsely altered again and again as it moves along from person to person.  With this being said, people should realize the potential harm that could result from negative conversation about a certain topic.  Conversing with someone about another person in a negative way can lead to some substantial harm and hurt feelings in the future.

Yoo, J.H. (2009). The power of sharing negative information in a dyadic context. Communication Reports, 22, 29-40.

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Michael Rabby, PhD, serves as a consultant, author & professor specializing in social media, relationship building, and statistics-based research. Here, I muse about these things, along with the occasional comment about music, sports, and whatever else strikes my fancy. After all, it is still communication.