Article | Journal of Experimental Social Psychology | January 1982

A Negativity Bias in Interpersonal Evaluation

by T. M. Amabile and A. H. Glazebrook

Abstract

Two studies were conducted to demonstrate a bias toward negativity in evaluations of persons or their work in particular social circumstances. In Study 1, subjects evaluated materials written by peers. Those working under conditions that placed them in low status relative to the audience for their evaluations, or conditions that made their intellectual position within a group insecure, showed a clear bias toward negativity in those evaluations. Only individuals who believed their audience to be of relatively low status and at the same time believed their intellectual position to be secure did not show this bias. In Study 2, subjects viewed a videotape of a stimulus person and rated him on several intellectual and social dimensions. Again, subjects believed their audience to be of either relatively high or relatively low status. As a cross dimension, they were given instructions to focus on either the intellectual or the social abilities of the stimulus person while viewing the videotape. A strong main effect of audience status was demonstrated, but only in ratings of intellectual traits; subjects who believed their audience to be of relatively high status rated the stimulus person's intellectual qualities significantly more negatively. Moreover, this effect was independent of the instructional focus subjects had been given. The negativity bias is discussed in the context of previous demonstrations of biases toward weighting negative information more heavily than positive information, as well as previous demonstrations of seemingly pervasive positivity biases in memory and judgment.

Keywords: Social Psychology; Status and Position; Prejudice and Bias; Performance Evaluation; Situation or Environment; Perception; Attitudes;

Citation:

Amabile, T. M., and A. H. Glazebrook. "A Negativity Bias in Interpersonal Evaluation." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 18 (January 1982): 1–22.