Is Negative Acknowlegement a Good Idea?
Imagine that you have an interview in a few days. You are wondering whether it would be
a good idea to acknowledge a weakness in your work history. You might think that the
interviewer would perceive you as more honest if you mention the weakness at the beginning
of the interview. After all, the weakness is reflected on the your resume. You have had
three jobs that lasted less than six months. Perhaps acknowledging this weakness may be a
good idea. You may be judged more positively.
Ward and Berenner (2006) investigated the effects of negative acknowledgement in three
experiments. For example, in Study 1, participants read a paragraph and rated the clarity of
the paragraph. In one condition, the participants were presented with a statement that the
paragraph was confusing before the paragraph. In another condition, they were presented
with a statement that the paragraph was confusing after the paragraph. In a control
condition, there was no statement that the paragraph was confusing. On the average, the
participants who were presented with the statement that the paragraph was confusing before
the paragraph rated the paragraph as clearer than the participants in the other two
conditions. In contrast, there was no statistically significant difference between the control
group and the group presented with the negative acknowledgment after the paragraph with
respect to perceived clarity of the paragraph.
The other two studies also found evidence that negative acknowledgment of an attribute
had a positive influence on some judgments related to the attribute. In Study 2, a speaker
who acknowledged having a strong accent was judged on the average to have a clearer voice
than in a control condition with no negative acknowledgemnt. Moreover, in Study 3, if a
hypothetical college applicant made a negative acknowledgement about high school grades,
the applicant's grades were judged more positively on the average than in a control condition
(no negative acknowledgement). However, there were no statistically significant differences
between a control condition and the condition with the negative acknowledgment by the
applicant with respect to the applicant's SAT scores or the college admission decision.
Moreover, there were no statistically significant differences between the control condition (no
negative acknowledgment) and a condition in which a guidance counselor made the negative
acknowledgent with respect to judgments about grades, SAT scores, and college admission.
The findings of the studies may have important practical implications. In some situations it
may be a good idea to acknowledge a negative attribute before someone learns about the
negative attributes. However, there might be some limitations of this benefit. For example,
if someone is unlikely to uncover the negative attribute, then it is possible it might not be a
good idea to mention the negative attribute.
1. See their article for more information about the studies and findings.
Ward, A., & Brenner, L. (2006). Accentuate the negative: The positive
effects of negative acknowledgment. Psychological Science, 17, 959-962.