Good news or bad news first?

The study conducted by Legg and Sweeny assessed a common social situation where an individual is deciding the order for the good news and bad news. It is clear that people would feel anxiety and discomfort when receiving bad news, thus the news-recipients may choose to receive the bad news first so that the following good news will make them feel better after all. However, giving bad news to someone is stressful for the news-giver so news-givers would postpone the bad news and give the good news first because it is easier for them to do so. The conflicting choices of order between news-giver and news-receiver is probably caused by news-givers’ egocentric bias: they are more concerned about reducing their own mental discomfort than the news-recipients’ anxiety. This study raised two hypothesis based on two methods: prime of perspective taking and prime of emotion-protection goals to reduce such egocentric bias, so that the news-givers’ choice of order may match with the news-recipients’. Researchers further hypothesized that the order of receiving news may have consequences on people’s motivation to change negative behavior.

The researcher replicated a previous study in the first experiment. The result reiterated the conflicting choices of news order between news-giver and news-recipient. In the following experiment, the researcher tried to eliminate the egocentric biases of news-givers. All participants were assigned to news-giver condition and were given good and bad news for the news-recipient on them. Participants were told that they would report those results to the news-recipient, who was actually a confederate. Participants were instructed with three different manipulations: the control condition, where participants could give the results as they wanted to; the perspective-taking condition where participants were specifically told to think of the recipient’s’ feelings; and the emotion-protection condition, where participants were instructed that they need to minimize the recipient’s potential bad feelings.

One salient change the researchers made on this experiment is that they set up the face-to-face situation using a confederate rather than just asking the news-givers to provide their choices. This change intensified the mental discomfort and stress and avoided somewhat vague outcome for the experiment. They successfully presented the study in a way more similar to daily life situation and possibly make the results more significant. The result shows that the control participants chose the easy way out and give the good news first, which match the normal trend in daily life, while participants in the perspective-taking and emotion-protection conditions gave bad news first.

One explanation for this outcome is that news-givers always have accurate insight into the best way to receive good and bad news, but this insight is hampered by a more salient concern about their own discomfort. The two primes act as a simple reminder to news-givers to remember how it feels to be the recipient of bad news. They reduced the egocentric bias of news-givers by actively making them form more construals about the situation especially those based on the recipients’ point of view. The news-givers are thus,  placed on a more objective standpoint while choosing the order to report the news.


It should be concerned that the two primes verbally told to the participants might caused certain threat to the construct validity. They might have chosen to report the bad-news first as it was probably what the researcher wanted them to do. Another probable concern is that the researcher did not consider the situation when the bad news and good news needed to be presented in a certain order to make sense. This particular order of presentation is not due to news giver’s or recipient’s discomfort, but an underlying logic of presentation news. This might reduce the concurrent validity of the study as the absolute independency of good and bad news is considerably rare in real life.

The third experiment further explored the consequences of reporting order on people’s motivation to correct negative behavior. Results showed that participants tend to show good mood and less motivation after receiving the bad news first and good news at last while it shows the opposite for those received the good news first. One confound involved in this experiment is worry, which is a byproduct of receiving the bad news. People might have chosen to behave positively because they were worried about the bad news rather than the bad news itself. Receiving the bad news before good news would considerably reduce people’s worry, thus reducing people’s motivation to correct the negative behavior. It is possible that the the order of news presentation and motivation are two independent factors. There is situation where bad news leads to pessimism and thus reduce people’s motivation to continue on an impossible task. Too much complication involved in perception of bad news made the bad news not necessarily lead to worry and motivation.



Legg, A., & Sweeny, K. (2013). Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First? The Nature and Consequences of News Order Preferences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1-10. doi: 10.1177/0146167213509113

Original article can be found here.

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