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"No" has a very short life

25.07.2017 Society
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I did not accept a bribe, I was not speeding, I do not know this person. Such explanations can have the opposite effect to the intended one. Research shows that after a week we tend to forget about the negation, distorting the original message.

The occurrence of this tendency was observed in the series of experiments by the scientists from the Jagiellonian University. "The effect itself did not surprise us, we were expecting it. We were surprised by its strength" - said one of the authors of the study Dr. Romuald Polczyk from the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University.


According to the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University, in the first study, a group of 292 subjects heard a description of a house, in which some items of equipment were present and the presence of other items was negated. Thus, the respondents heard sentences such as "There is a carpet in the room"; "There is no refrigerator in the house". Then the researchers checked what the subjects remembered: immediately after the description reading and after one week. A similar study, but adapted to the cognitive ability of children, was conducted on six-year-olds. In yet another study, researchers checked how the respondents remembered the behaviour of a driver described in the experiment, who was breaking the traffic regulations. All experiments yielded the same result.


"Research has shown that after some time, the +no+ particle is gone, and the subjects forget the negative aspect. For example, one group heard that there was a fridge in the house; the other, there was no fridges in the house. After one week, the group heard that there was no fridge stated that the fridge was present almost as often as the group that actually heard that there was a refrigerator" - explained Dr. Romuald Polczyk.


He noted that this effect did not occur at once. In the studies it appeared after one week in adults and after one day in children.


"Negation is an important part of our daily communication. Therefore, I think that this principle may apply to the entire social life. Considering how often we have to contradict, deny, explain something, this phenomenon can have dangerous consequences. Especially that its effect is quite strong" - emphasised the researcher.


The phenomenon may be of importance, for example, in eyewitness psychology. A witness - as Dr. Polczyk explained - may be told by another witness, or hear in the media, that the suspect did not do anything. But after a few weeks or months, the opposite information can be written in that witness' memory. The described effect can also have major implications for public life and statements made by politicians. After all, we often hear assurances that they have not done something that they are being accused of.


The study of researchers from the Jagiellonian University is one of many that demonstrating the effect of negation. In psychology, this effect is examined from various angles. "There is a series of studies that show that negation has the opposite effect compared to what we would expect. If we tell someone: do not think about pink elephants, studies have shown that it actually induces thinking about pink elephants" - said Dr. Polczyk.


Negation has to be "handled" skilfully and carefully. "When we consider how often we tell others, especially children: do not do this or that, then in the light of this research we expect the opposite effect" - noted the researcher.


Why does the "no" particle produce such a strong, inverse effect? Is it its presence, or rather the fact of negation? This is still unclear. In the experiments at the Jagiellonian University researchers used the word "no". What would be the result of the study if the negation were induced in a different way? Scientist from the Jagiellonian University want to find that out in planned subsequent experiments.


"Our research so far has only demonstrated this effect. Finding out why it happens and what the mechanism of this phenomenon is will require further, separate studies" - said Polczyk.


The study has been published in PLOS One. The first author of the publication is Dr. Józef Maciuszek from the Institute of Applied Psychology of the Jagiellonian University.


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland


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