Is it true that people handle bad news better if they got told good news first, or do they 'forget' the good news if the bad news is told after?

Is it better to save the good news for last so the person who gets the news will have a better average feeling about the conversation?

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    $\begingroup$ Micha, this looks like something that should get a quick lit search first. What have you found so far (or have you learned in classes). I'm not down-voting your question b/c I hate it when people do that to me on other SE forums. But I bet a quick Google scholar will find something. My personal experience is that bad news is better second. Put the person in a good mood first. Then give the bad news. In terms of cognition/memory, you're talking about "primacy" and "recency" effects (to aid in your search). Good luck! $\endgroup$
    – matt jans
    Mar 4 '16 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ This is probably opinion based unless someone can pull up a study. I would prefer the bad news first, otherwise I will be worrying too much to appreciate the good news. Either way the good news will be the same. $\endgroup$
    – user3169
    Mar 5 '16 at 5:10

My suggestion is to look to prospect theory here. In general, people feel losses 2.5x more than gains (Kahneman + Tversky). There's also an inversion curve: more good has diminishing returns, more bad has diminishing returns too. Basically we 'acclimate'

This is a very crude way to think about it.

Good news first: In this situation, we could go up the curve, then 2.5X down for the bad news, or the other way around.

Bad news first: In this situation, you go down the curve first, but coming back the curve you erase the curve of the bad news, which is 2.5x steeper, so you're actually net gaining in positive utility, because the same amount of good news brings you up the curve more.

This is called the silver lining effect in the literature.

So all in all, deliver the bad news first: you'll gain more 'upside' on reversing bad news than following up good news with bad (silver lining effect) + people will remember the good news at the end of the conversation (recency effect).

  • $\begingroup$ ... but of course, not always, and 'it depends'. ;p Interesting related concepts regardless. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Apr 30 '16 at 17:34

Micha, you've asked a question that promises divergent answers, but it gets to the heart of human relationships because it's a situation (telling news, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes both) we all experience as tellers and as listeners. It would take some amazingly clever social scientists to devise experiments that might shed light on this question. The problem, however, is that there is no such thing as "good news" or "bad news," not in any scientific context. There may be bad news: "Your father died in an accident," or "I had a fender-bender in your car," or "The growth in your brain is malignant," or "You know your favorite vase? I accidentally broke it." Or good news: "The ABC company called and said you got the job," or "The growth in your brain is not malignant," or "Your little sister made an 'A' in her Chemistry class," or "Yes, I'd like to go to the concert with you." There is only specific news with a total range of degrees and kinds of bad things and good things. The point is, no one can answer your questions accurately using those general terms. But as I said, this is a vital question that we all deal with, in our personal and in our professional lives. You will find, in your research, that the variables are seemingly endless regarding factors in a person's response to good or bad news.


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