Special Session Summary the Effects of Negative Information in the Political and Marketing Arenas: Exceptions to the Negativity Effect


Rohini Ahluwalia and Baba Shiv (1997) ,"Special Session Summary the Effects of Negative Information in the Political and Marketing Arenas: Exceptions to the Negativity Effect", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 222.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Page 222



Rohini Ahluwalia, University of Kansas

Baba Shiv, University of Iowa

The negativity effect or the greater weighting and subsequently greater impact of negative information as compared to positive information in judgment and decision making, has been well documented in various literatures: decision making (framing effect, Kahneman and Tversky 1979), impression formation (Fiske 1980; Kanouse and Hanson 1972), and persuasion (Meyerowitz and Chaiken 1987). This session questioned the generalizability of the negativity effect to the political and marketing arenas - where information is encountered in the form of "attack" ads and negative publicity releases by consumers/voters who differ in their prior expectations about the brand/candidate.

Baba Shiv and Julie Edell argue that the effectiveness of negatively framed ad claims compared to positively framed ones depends on which cognitions are likely to have a bigger impact on preferences: those related to the claims or those related to the advertising tactics. They propose that when processing is less extensive in nature, message claims are expected to more accessible and hence dominate. This is likely to result in negatively framed claims being more effective than positively framed ones, in line with the negativity effect. When the processing is more elaborate in nature, cognitions related to the advertising tactics are also likely to become accessible. If the tactics are perceived to be unfair, and if they are diagnostic for choice, they are likely to impact preferences resulting in a backlash against the sponsor of a negatively framed ad. Baba Shiv presented results from three experiments that supported their propositions.

A negativity effect has been found in impressions of American presidential candidates: character weaknesses are weighted more heavily in evaluations of candidates than character strengths (Klein 1991; 1996). The second paper dealt with understanding the generalizability of this finding to oter countries and cultures. Jill Klein presented the results of data collected with Grzegorz Sedek, Agnes Toth and Gabor Mertz during recent Polish, Hungarian and U.S. Presidential elections. While negativity is consistently found in U. S. presidential elections, negativity did not characterize impressions of candidates in Poland and Hungary. A further study, showing the Poles have a generally negative view of political leaders, while Americans have generally positive views, supports the expectancy-contrast explanation for negativity. Attributes that contrast with expectations receive disproportionate weight in overall judgments.

It has been argued in the literature that negative information is given more weight in overall evaluations because it is perceived to be more diagnostic than positive information (e.g. Skowronski & Carlston 1987). Rohini Ahluwalia, Bob Burnkrant and Rao Unnava, argue that since negative information gets more because of its higher diagnosticity, factors that reduce the perceived diagnosticity of negative information are likely to result in an elimination of the negativity effect. One such factor is the prior commitment of the consumer towards the target brand. Rohini Ahluwalia presented the results of two experiments which examine the effects of negative product information in a publicity context. The researchers find that the prior commitment of the consumer moderates the perceived diagnosticity of negative and positive information. The negativity effect is found only for consumers who were low in commitment towards the target brand. High commitment consumers, on the other hand, demonstrated inferential biases and a reversal effect: they perceived positive information as more diagnostic than negative information.

Dipankar Chakravarti, in synthesizing the session, stated that while a plethora of studies now exist demonstrating the negativity effect and the potential moderators to this effect, little effort has been focused on investigating the role of memory the negativity effect. In other words, is negativity perceptual or representational in nature? He suggests that future research examine whether negativity is moderated by the perceptual salience of information, or alternatively, whether it is moderated by the cognitive and representational processes involved in integrating positive and negative information. He also recommends investigating the way in which context and task factors influence the perceptual and cognitive process involved in attribute weighting.


Fiske, Susan (1980), "Attention and Weight in Person Perception: The Impact of Negative and Extreme Behavior," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 38, 889-906.

Homer, Pamela and Rajeev Batra (1994), "Attitudinal Effects of Character-Based Versus Competence-Based Negative Political Communications," Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 3. No. 2, 163-185.

Kahneman, Daniel and Amos Tversky (1979), "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk," Econometrica, Vol. 47 (March), 263-91.

Kanouse, David E., and Reid L. Hanson Jr. (1972), "Negativity in Evaluations," in Attribution: Perceiving the Causes of Behavior, Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press, 47-62.

Klein, Jill G. (1991), "Negativity Effects in Impressions Formation: A Test in the Political Arena", Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 17. No.4, 412-418.

Klein, Jill G. (1996), "Negativity in Impressions of Presidential Candidates Revisited: The 1992 Election", Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 22. No.3, 289-296.

Meyrowitz, Beth E., and Shelly Chaiken (1987), "The Effects of Message Framing on Breast Self-Examination Attitudes, Intentions, and Behavior", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 52, No. 3, 500-10.

Skowronski, J.J., & Carlston, D.E. (1987), "Social Judgment and Social Memory: The Role of Cue Diagnosticity in Negativity, Positivity, and Extremity Biases", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 52, 689-699.



Rohini Ahluwalia, University of Kansas
Baba Shiv, University of Iowa


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24 | 1997

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