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Do we perceive negative people as smarter and more competent than positive people?

Two studies examined the hypothesis that negative evaluators will be perceived as more intelligent than positive evalutors. Two types of stimuli were used: excerpts from actual negative and positive book reviews, and versions of those excerpts that were edited so that the balance of the reviews varied but the content did not. The results strongly supported the hypothesis. Negative reviewers were perceived as more intelligent, competent, and expert than positive reviewers, even when the content of the positive review was independently judged as being of higher quality and greater forcefulness. At the same time, in accord with previous research, negative reviewers were perceived as significantly less likeable than positive reviewers. The results on intelligence ratings are seen as bolstering the self-presentational explanation of the tendency shown by intellectually insecure individuals to be negatively critical. The present methodology is contrasted to that of previous research which obtained apparently contradictory results. The phenomenon demonstrated here is explained in terms of implicational schemata.

Source: “Brilliant but Cruel: Perceptions of Negative Evaluators.” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19 (1983), 146-156.

I came across this study in Bob Sutton’s very interesting book Good Boss, Bad Boss.

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About Eric Barker