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The bad news sandwich

To set the scene, an Improbable joke.

Doctor : “Ah, Mr. Smith, we have some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?”

Mr. Smith : “Gimme the bad news doc.”

Doctor : “We amputated the wrong foot.”

Mr. Smith : “Agggggh ! – And the good news?”

Doctor: “The other one’s getting better.”

Joking aside, a research project, published in Pers Soc Psychol Bull October 31, 2013, examines news-order preferences: ‘Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First? The Nature and Consequences of News Order Preferences’

Ph.D Candidate Angela M. Legg and professor Kate Sweeny, of the Life Events Lab at University of California, Riverside, US, have been examining what they call  ‘Uncertainty Navigation’. And, in three separate experimental studies it was found that news-recipients (of both good and bad news) sometimes have different preferences for the order in which the news is delivered, for example :

“Under some circumstances, people may welcome bad news, particularly when the news can guide decision-making or motivate behavior (Trope, 1986). […] Although bad news may be less holistically ‘bad’ when it is useful, we suspect that our findings regarding news order preferences generalize across news that varies in usefulness.”

The paper also highlights strategies that news-givers might bear in mind :

“[…] news-givers might attempt to further soften the blow of bad news by delivering bad news encased within a ‘bad news sandwich’ or good-bad-good pattern.”

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