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"A spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, but a spoonful of honey does nothing for a barrel of tar"

- old Russian adage quoted in Rozin & Royzman (2001) as one of the best descriptions of the relative power of bad being greater than good.

Bad drives out good is based on the assumption, supported by empirical evidence outlined by Baumeister et al. 2001, that bad things effect us more in a negative way than good things effect us in a positive way and this hypothesis can be argued as the drive which brought about the positive psychology movement. However, even though the evidence appears widespread across many different psychological disciplines, there are still those who argue against the significance and interpretations of these findings, meaning that a general consensus on the reliability of the hypothesis has yet to be reached.
In this wiki page we have given a general overview of the area including a brief history, outline of evidence, critiques and reasons, as well as practical applications and key readings. Furthermore, because of the vast amount of empirical information available, we have additionally summarised findings from corresponding psychological research areas referred to in the Baumeister et al. paper and have offered some personal criticisms.


Overview of Evidence
A Critical Account
Why Would Bad be Greater than Good?
Practical Exercises
Key Readings
Extended Summary of Findings


In 1999, Seligman called for a Positive Psychology movement after picking up on the negative focus evident in the history of psychology. Carlson (1966) surveyed psychology textbooks and found twice as many chapters on unpleasant emotions than pleasant emotions. Similarly, Czapinsky (1985) coded over 17000 research articles in psychology, and found that 69% of the articles were focused on negative issues, whereas only 31% were focused on positive issues.

Seligman proposed that researchers have focused too much on understanding the bad rather than the good. The recognition of this mindset can be argued as what brought about the requirement for a movement towards positive psychology. A recent review paper by Baumeister and colleagues has highlighted the many research areas in which this “bad over good” bias is evident. As a whole, the paper is quite convincing and the empirical evidence clearly shows that bad is stronger than good. However, much of their arguments are one-sided and they selectively only report evidence which is consistent with their hypothesis which will be discussed below. For further information on historical and cultural connections see the "Why would bad be greater than good?" section below.

Overview of evidence

The extensive review carried out by Baumeister et al 2001 is systematic in confirming their hypothesis that bad outweighs good, across a range of topics. However at 48 pages, there is a lot of evidence to sift through. This section highlights the main body of evidence that the paper unveils. It must be noted that all sections suffer from methodological issues and this is dealt with in the critique section.

Emotion- The section on emotion covers a supportive network to the hypothesis of bad being stronger than good. Negative language studies are used in support as is affect regulation ( the ability to change your mood). Memory and information processing where also briefly touched upon in this section. Affective forecasting (future prediction of intensity and length of negative and positive events) was used to support the hypothesis, however it could be argued that a positive future outlook could challenge some of this research.

Neurological processes-This section offers an extensive and informative view on research that was current to the publication. The use of ERP’s(event related potentials) was discussed. This section was also supported by learning, fear response and extinction. However it should be noted that more recent findings for such an area are always coming to light ands this should be considered for this section especially.

Information processing-This section relies on the idea that “bad” events are more thoroughly processed than good events. More research is needed in this area because of several confounding factors, including: familiarity, expectedness and novelty.

Close relationships- This section offers a good range of support of the general hypothesis. Bad in a relationship has a very big effect on the outcome of duration and other factors. This is widely supported by research carried out by Gottman. However some future research should be looked at in the sphere of abusive relationships.

Health-This section does not offer a huge amount of evidence. Two of the main focuses, is bad having a large effect on health and bad health having a stronger negative effect on life. There has however been a deficit on studies that set out to do the opposite.

Memory and life events-This section has a large focus on adaptation level theory and has some good supportive theory. Trauma also plays a big part in this section as there is little to oppose this highly negative event. However no mention of any opposite such as achievement is mentioned. Also no mention to the effect of mood on age as older adults have some interesting mood-regulating strategies.

Social support- There is quite a bit of support for the main hypothesis in this section. A lot of the evidence focuses on negative reaction and interaction in the support network. However evidence outside of the paper points toward research in size and diversity of the support network. Readiness to accept advice or help should also be reviewed.

Forming impressions- This section has a lot of support for the main hypothesis. First impressions are a big focus. The section also uses the negativity bias to aid it, in several studies where bad information is more powerful in forming impressions than even first impressions can be. Good behaviour is seen as expected.
Stereotypes- This is quite a limited section, however is supportive. The main evidence comes from the history of stereotypes and the quick and easy formation of a negative view.

Self- This section does show some support, however the authors have tried hard to mould the results to their own use. Self serving bias goes against the general notion of bad over good. Some supportive evidence is found in underestimating other people’s positive aspects and self-handicapping. Self-protection and self-enhancement struggle to support the theory.

Feedback- most of the evidence supports the hypothesis. The main body of evidence relies on bad moods or days being more difficult to escape. However does show some opposite views in negative feedback in certain settings, such as schools, being detrimental.

Learning- this section shows a high level of support. The main focus is on punishment being more effective than reward. This is open to debate especially in educational sphere, with praise being more effective than criticism.

Child development- this section has a high level of evidence to support the central hypothesis. Some of the focus relies on the fact that you can display negative before positive. Another avenue they explored was environment, in that a bad one can worsen the development of a child, however a good one will have no effect. However oppositional evidence should be seen through learning, in this case how we learn to smile as a baby.

The above notes are based on the paper written by Baumeister et al 2001. Although there is a wide range of evidence for the theory of bad being stronger than good, other avenues should be explored as there are many contradictions(see detailed sections below).

A Critique of the evidence

Review of research in many different areas of psychology has found consistent, and in some cases, strong supporting evidence that bad is stronger than good. Indeed, the findings summarised by Baumeister et al in their 2001 paper seem to be extremely robust. However, there are certain aspects which must be viewed with caution, namely the individual strengths of the findings and the methodology, a lack of clarity or consistency with operational definitions. More detail on specific criticisms are given in the later section, see findings.

Problems with the individual strengths...
The authors state in their introduction that they are more concerned with the broad range of topics that this finding covers, rather than the individual strengths of them. We therefore must wonder exactly how significant all of these are – some may be little more than chance. Moreover, several of the interpretations in the paper come across as subjective which suggests that the authors may be portraying the evidence in a biased way to support their own hypotheses.

Issues with the methodologies...
There may also be methodological issues associated with some of the studies For those which compare positive and negative aspects, it is difficult to establish equal intensity in the two conditions - a lack of which can easily skew results. For example, the death of a loved one may be seen as a more negative event than winning the lottery a positive event. In this way the paper doesn't take into account the influence that society may have on the findings. People living in affluent societies may be more affected by loss – gaining some more money does not have as much of an effect as losing it because the latter may force the individual to adapt in other ways to make up for their loss. Therefore there may in fact be large differences in cultures where there are higher levels of deprivation, struggle and adversity. In the opposite way they may see gain as more important than loss and so have a more positive outlook on life.

Lack of clarity and consistency in operational definitions...
Throughout the paper the authors describe bad as being ‘stronger than’, ‘more important than’ or ‘having more power than’ good interchangeably. There are no real operational definitions provided to explain exactly what is meant by either, or all, of these terms. If these had been specified more clearly, the authors could have investigated the separate effects in relation to each concept directly so that the saliency and importance of events can be determined independently. This would possibly have helped the authors come to a more convincing conclusion as to whether their findings are simply a result of evolutionary adaptions or are effected by contemporary social influences.

Why Would Bad be greater than good?

It has been proposed that the findings of bad having a greater affect than good illustrate an evolutionary adaptive response of preferential treatment to diagnostic information (Baumeister et al. 2001). Here information, behaviour and events that can be perceived as a threat to survival or a danger to our physical well being seem to receive more attention and have greater affect than harmless positive constructs. However, as mentioned above, little attention has been given by research to outline potential societal influences and furthermore, the cultural role of this phenomenon has not been adequately addressed.

Apparently there are no cultural connections...
It is interesting to note that Baumeister et al.’s paper does not advocate a cultural basis to the notion that bad is greater than good. They state that culture would not need to conform to the same perspective as this adaptive response because it is society’s preference to motivate people to behave in socially desirable, and hence positive, ways. They argue that cultural myths, ideas and religions seem to symbolise the act of redemption over retribution (Eliade, 1982; 1985) where heaven and hell are perceived in equal extremes with the latter showing more widespread belief than the former (Aries 1981). However, where they draw evidence from cultural mythology, songs, films and novels I find fault, as these realms seem to be preoccupied with fantasy more than reality. In this light it is no wonder that the trends follow that of one exception recognised by the review; that is positive affect dominating cognitions about future or non-immediate experiences (Taylor & Brown 1988; see section on the self for further information).

An alternative perspective...
Historically speaking the power of “bad” is something that I believe religious perspectives have always had a healthy respect for, probably because of their affiliation with salvation. Temptation, by definition, has always been hard to resist, implying that the bad thing doing the tempting must have the potential to be more influential than say the good prevailing sense to resist. Additionally, the simple assumption that worrying is the one of the most common traits attributed to mothers portrays a message advocating fear of the strength of this dark side, at least in westernised communities; and this perspective fits in better with the idea that bad being stronger than good is an adaptive response. Evolutionary speaking it makes sense that we would need to be sensitively attuned to bad things, for these are the subjects or objects that are most likely to cause a threat to genetic heritage. For to ignore a potentially good outcome could do nothing more threatening than miss an opportunity for pleasure or material advancement (Baumeister et al. 2001). And, if nothing else, Darwin’s assumption of survival being the primary human instinctual drive is older, more respected and better evidenced than Freud’s reputation with the pleasure principle.

Possible mechanisms...
A relatively recent method of looking at the electrophysical behaviour of event related potentials has allowed researchers to gauge the amplitude of brain responses to a variety of situations, one of which is the reaction to positive and negative narrative inconsistencies. Following on from this, evidence has been used to support the identification of a specific brain mechanism which detects self generated errors (Luu et al. 2000; Baumeister 2001). The existence of such a self-monitoring system which contains no equivalent neuronal correlate for correct intended responses encourages the idea that down to the last neuron the effects of bad are stronger than good. However, evidence in this area is not unequivocal with contradicting findings regarding the location of the system and how it fits in with other processing theories (Botvinick, Coen & Carter 2004). (See neurological processing section for further information) Furthermore this could not be the only mechanism responsible for such a broad bias and in behaviour. One other example being attentional bias or negative framing; research has found that negative information is better attended to within western democracies, at least in respect to political campaigns (Lau et al. 2007). Thus, not only do other mechanisms need to be identified and researched but this also highlights a much bigger problem that without adequate research done in the east how can we be sure that this apparent strength of bad over good is actually a universal finding.

Practical Exercises

When looking at practical exercises in the area of bad being stronger than good, the majority focus on keeping negative emotions in check and instead shifting the focus to positive aspects of a person’s life. It is argued that negative emotions are required in life. They are needed to give us information about our environment and so should not altogether be eliminated, but rather, steps should be taken to reduce negative aspects, so that they are not taking over our lives, and increase positive aspects (

Directing attention to the positive...
This can be done by carrying out a number of activities that change our attention to positive areas of our lives. It is recommended that techniques used to look at positive areas of our lives are used in situations where you want to achieve, want to change how you feel or keep up optimistic views. It’s recommended that they’re not used if you’re planning for a future that is uncertain or when failure might be high ( Positive psychology interventions, which include treatments or activities that will develop positive feelings, thoughts or behaviours, have been found to increase well-being and decrease symptoms of depression (Sin and Lyubomirsky, 2009). Exercises can be applied in various settings. Some are possible to carry out at home in your own time; others are applied in clinical settings such as counselling and psychotherapy.

The following are examples of some that can be carried out in your own time:

· The VIA Survey of Character is a tool for measuring character strengths ( On completion of the survey, your top strengths can be identified and it is suggested that once this has been done, each strength should be used in a different and new way each day for the following week. Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) have tested this found that it has positive effects on happiness for the long term. The website gives examples of ways these strengths could be used.

· There are a number of questionnaires on the Authentic Happiness website ( Those related to the topic of bad being stronger than good include the PANAS Questionnaire which Measures the positive and negative affect and the Optimism Test. The website gives the results for the PANAS Questionnaire but doesn’t offer an interpretation. There is however, results and an interpretation for the Optimism Test. This measures optimism about the future.

· ABCDE model which concentrates on learning to be optimistic. This was elaborated by Martin Seligman and based on a technique by Albert Ellis. It is used to recognise and dispute any pessimistic thoughts and build up optimism. The idea is to recognise pessimistic thoughts and treat them as if they’re said by an outside person. Once you have identified pessimistic thoughts, the ABCDE model can be used to counteract them.

A – Adversity
B – Beliefs
C – Consequences
D – Disputation
E – Energization

The idea is to take the adverse events, listen to your negative beliefs about the event, look at what happens because of your beliefs and dispute those negative beliefs. Doing this may help to counteract any negative information and help focus on the positive. There is a good example of the ABCDE system on the Centre for Confidence website (

· “3 for 1 Gratitude Stop” recommended by David J Pollay, associate executive director of the Internetional Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) ( To carry out this exercise, it is suggested that when you get one piece of good news, think of three things that you are grateful for which stems from this news. This makes you think about the positive impact that the news has had on you and is considered to be a way to counteract the bad.

The benefits associated with exercises...
It has been found that positive psychology interventions can produce a number of benefits. Web based exercises eased symptoms of depression for about six months compared with placebo exercises (Seligman, Rashid and Parks, 2006) and so these interventions could be really useful in the treatment of such disorders. Within other applications for the treatment of depression, the focus is mainly looking and dealing with negative aspects in a person's life and trying to change them, but positive psychological interventions have shown that positive areas should be given just as much attention.

A reference to the other topics...
The above are just some exercises which can be done to focus on the positive areas of our lives. It appears the idea that bad is stronger than good aided the beginning of positive psychology to counteract negative thoughts, feelings or attitudes people experience, and as a result of this, individual areas stemmed such as learned optimism, meaning, expressing gratitude, the strengths approach and positive emotions. All these areas attempt to shift the attention to positive aspects of people's lives. Therefore, the above exercises can be used to focus on positive areas as opposed to negative and in addition are related to and can be used in numerous other areas of positive psychology.

Key Readings

The obvious main reading for this topic is:

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001) Bad is Stronger Than Good. Review of General Psychology 5 (4) 323-370

as it contains essentially a summary of all the work in the broad area that is Bad is Stronger Than Good, and contains many references in the area. However, three other papers which are worth a look would be the ones below, as they contain evidence that is contrary to the pessimistic review of Baumeister's.

Wang, C. S., Galinsky, A. D., Murnighan, J. K., (2009) Bad Drives Psychological Reactions, but Good Propels Behaviour: Responses to Honesty and Deception Psychological Science 20 (5) 634-644

Lucas, RE., (2007). Adaptation and the Set-Point Model of Subjective Well-Being: Does Happiness Change After Major Life Events? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2). 75-79.

Diener, E., Diener, C. (1996) Most People Are Happy. Psychological Science 7 (3). 181-185

These papers go someway towards offering an alternative view to Baumeister et al., the first paper gives an alternative insight into the bad is stronger than good hypothesis, and the other two look at how most people are positive about their lives, even those who have suffered from injury and disease, which contradicts the view that the negative has a greater effect than the positive.

Extended Summary of Findings

Because of the nature of this topic being fundamental to the positive psychology movement, it displays routes within many areas of psychology i.e. cognitive, neurological and social. A critical summary of these should help clarify understanding of the different evidential areas that surround this hypothesis.


Emotional distinctions between good and bad are well established in psychology and society alike. Research indicates that that positive and negative emotional attributes are independent to one another, contradicting the popular assumption that the two are opposite ends of a moral spectrum (Watson & Telegen 1985). The evidence would suggest that both are measures of affect intensity that can be positively correlated at the same time in one person even though the person would usually not perceive it as such (Diener, Larsen, Levine and Emmons 1985).

There are more negative than positive words to describe emotion...
It has been hypothesised that if negative emotions were more powerful than positive ones, this would be portrayed in the frequency of their representation in language. Averill (1980) advocates this in finding more words associated negative emotions than positive emotions: 62% vs. 38% respectively while Anderson (1965) found negative emotional personality traits to be more frequent than positive ones: 74% vs. 26% respectively.

More importance is assigned to recognising and labelling negative states…
Similarly cross cultural findings (Van Goozen and Frijda 1993) indicate that out of an extensive sample (of 6 European countries and Canada) only one country, the Netherlands, show a preference for positive over negative words in their top 12 most salient words. This was measured by the frequency of category type recalled in 5 minutes, when 'surprise', 'excitement' and 'crying' are assigned as neutral on the grounds that they all can be felt in both positive and negative ways. Other work has confirmed the usual preference of negative words in observing greater variety and magnitude of words to describe negative emotional states (Clore & Ortony, 1988; Russel, Fernandez-Dols, Manstead & Wellenkamp, 1995).

Self-help techniques used more to escape bad moods than to induce good ones…
In consistence with the hypothesis of negative emotion being more powerful than positive emotions, more techniques have been created to relax, calm down and cast away bad moods than to seek a positive affect. This finding may seem surprising as “looking on the Brightside” is commonly quoted as a way to deal with negative emotions yet empirically it has been found that out of the mood regulating categories (e.g. induction, termination and prolonging) self-report measures indicate that it is termination of unpleasant state that is more common than the induction of positive one (Baumeister, Heatherton & Tice 1994).

Effect of induced moods more salient for negative emotions…
Even when taking a look at those exercises that can be used to induce moods, it appears that negative ones are more powerful in being particularly influential. When looking at mood effects on cognitive processing , Esses and Zanna (1995) were able to significantly determine an effect of negative mood induction on the heightening of ethnic outgroup stereotypes, even though both negative and positive moods were rated as differing in equal magnitude to the neutral baseline. Thus, regardless of equal “strengths” associated with the moods only negative induction had a significant effect.

Positive emotional experiences are easier to forget…
Regardless of whether it is the greater frequency of experience or the relative weakness of memory traces that is responsible, consistent findings indicate that positive emotional experiences are under represented in self-reports (Thomas & Diener 1990). Compatible opposing evidence in favour of recall for negative emotional experience has also been found in a study by Finkenauer & Rime (1998). Here participants were asked to describe a recent emotional experience and when only 1 in 4 reports were of positive experiences, the researchers concluded that bad emotions must retain greater salience over time than good ones.

Critical Summary and Conclusion
The phenomenon of bad driving out good with respect to emotion seems to be significantly supported by the above studies. Even in the other related areas that outline this phenomenon: reaction to events, information and neurological processing; findings have been consistent with the idea that where emotion is concerned negative influence plays a stronger role (see Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg & Wheatley 1998; and Bless Hamilton & Mackie 1992). However, some strains of supporting evidence are more questionable than others. For example in looking at the different levels of emotional understanding in young children, a surprising finding that securely attached children have better understanding of negative emotions than insecurely attached children, has led researchers to claim that the importance of the negative feelings is greater than their strength i.e. insecure children finding it more important to protect themselves and avoid negative memories and events (Laible & Thompson 1998). Although both constructs of strength and importance are clearly in support of the “more powerful” argument, clarification of the interaction between them are needed to outline where indeed emotional importance for individual protection overrides the fundamental strength of the influence.

Within each of the studies a criticism can be warranted warning against the notion of accepting the evidence collectively without question. The Dutch researchers who undertook the cross cultural study on national salient words may have had an alternative reason or bias behind finding the Netherlands to be only country with more positive than negative words (Van Goozen and Frijda 1993). Furthermore, the assigning of neutrality to some of the words, such as excitement, could be easily contested as manipulating the stimuli in favour of the result (i.e. if excitement is negative it is usually called anxiousness). Another example is the study that looks at the influence of mood induction on heightening salience of out-group stereotypes (Esses & Zanna 1995). When taken out of context it does not appear as surprising to find that only negative induction had a significant effect on stereotype recognition, when negative connotations to the stereotype construct in the first place would favour this bias. In this way when looked at closely holes can be picked within the surmounted evidence yet it nonetheless doesn’t disprove the overwhelming consistency of the different studies supporting the bad being stronger than good hypothesis.


Findings in this area support the bad stronger than good hypothesis by suggesting that larger responses of the brain occur for bad rather than good stimuli/situations. This sub-topic provides another layer of support for many of the others that relating to the hypothesis i.e. learning, memory, information processing, and feedback. In particular, neurological processes evidence the evolutionary argument that stands to reason behind this phenomenon. Looking at the brain at this level gives an insight into certain behavioural adaptations that appear to favour the response to and processing of negative stimuli and situations.

Stronger brain responses to bad over good…
A relatively recent method of looking at the electrophysical behaviour of event related potentials has paved the way for an interesting insight into the different magnitude of brain responses. Event related negativity (ERN) is one such measure which has allowed researchers to gauge the amplitude of responses to a variety of situations, one of which is the reaction to positive and negative narrative consistencies.

A larger (P300) amplitude response has been found associated with negative inconsistencies (i.e. a really nice character turning malicious in an unexpected twist, compared to a nasty character showing compassion which would be a positive consistency) (Bartholow et al . 1999). By looking at this effect closely researchers have identified a neurological marker by observing a pattern in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), a neurological substrate believed to be involved in self-regulatory abilities. (Posner 1994; Miltner, Braun & Coles 1997: Luu, Collins & Tucker 2000).

Self-monitoring systems focus on the negative…
Following on from this, ERP evidence has been used to support the identification of a specific brain mechanism in the ACC, which detects self generated errors (Luu et al. 2000; Baumeister 2001). Errors, as mistakes, are most likely the result of an unintended response, usually defined as such because of its influencing the likelihood of a bad outcome (Baumeister 2001). In this way there appears to be a more pronounced neurological sensitivity to negative over positive situations. Some studies have been able to show an activation of this particular mechanism in cases where respondents have made errors while continuously adjusting responses to a particular task that they receive no feedback on. Thus, even when people are not told they’ve made a mistake their brains usually recognise it.

The existence of such a self-monitoring system which contains no equivalent neuronal correlate for correct intended responses, encourages the idea that down to the last neuron the effects of bad are stronger than good. Furthermore in studies which are looking at particular neurological markers thought to be unique to error detection (Miltner, Braun & Coles 1997), the suggestion of a generic system that recognises self initiated errors has been proposed after finding such markers in three different sense modalities: vision, sound and bodily feeling (i.e. somotosensory).

When it comes to fear, learning can never be undone…
Compared to neutral states, fear creates an ineffaceable account of itself within stored neuronal patterning responses retained by the brain. Even after the behavioural response to a fear-inducing conditioned stimulus has been extinguished, permanent memory traces of the connections between those neurons that responded to the stimuli persist (Quirk et al.1995). It has been suggested that this is an adaptive response for survival, where for threatening situations the pattern of response is retained so that the processing of this event a second time will be faster with a quicker awareness being possible.

Critical Summary and Conclusion
Overall findings suggest that bad drives out good right down to a neuronal level. Evidence is impressive with prolific current research supporting it (Botvinick. Coen & Carter 2004), however this more recent evidence has also unearthed some contradictory findings on 1) the location of an error detection system in the ACC and 2) how the processing of errors fits in with other theories regarding this area (e.g. conflict monitoring). Thus, the mechanisms responsible for such a bias in behaviour need to be further identified, outlined and clarified by future research.

Furthermore, when it comes to neuronal reflections of affective states, future areas should look to other more particular ways of testing the hypothesis which directly asses the concept of bad and good without having to rely on fear as an indicator. Positive connotations of fear include motivational aspects to overcome and pleasurable adrenaline states, therefore this state cannot unequivocally become a representation for the strength of all negative affective states, as there are plenty others from which no associations exist, one example of which may be sadness.


For the overall hypothesis of bad being stronger than good it is critical that we assess such a significant indicator of importance and power as is information processing, which cannot afford equal measures across all types of information. According to but one of many sources (Fiske & Taylor 1991) “High motivation and pragmatic concerns cause people to process relevant information more thoroughly” p. 340 (Baumeister et al. 2001). In this way relevant bad information appears to receive more comprehensive information processing than the equivocal good.

Bad experiences receive greater information processing than good events…
Explained with regard to the state of fear in the neurological processes section, and with regard to positive emotional experiences being more easily forgotten, the idea that information processing occurs at a greater level for negative over positive events has already briefly been touched on. Yet whether this is due to a biological bias or a result of novel experience had not been outlined. Abele (1985) was interested in this question after finding that people spend more time engaged in thinking and reasoning for bad rather than good events. As unexpected events cause more cognitive processing anyways it is necessary to distinguish where the main effect lies. When expectedness of the event was held constant in the base rates across experimental conditions, the same results were obtained idicating that this finding is indeed valid (Abele 1985).

For the most part better memories evidence deeper processing within negative affective states…
Recall in good moods tends to be produced by clustering of information in a superficial fashion while bad moods result in more adequate recollection owing better processing (Bless, Hamilton & Mackie 1992). However, high arousal bad moods can illicit an opposite effect, where snap decisions are preferred and the value of information does not seem to be dwelled upon. Even in these cases though, the magnitude of the influence is greater than that of a high arousal positive state, so the effect is still consistent with the bad driving out the good hypothesis. This only other way that negative states seem to hinder recollection is when instinct overrides this cognitive phenomenon and defence mechanisms (see conclusion on emotion) are warranted (i.e. people who repress information, Taylor 1991).

Negative information grabs automatic attention…
In a modified stroop paradigm, researchers looked to measure reaction times to negative personality traits interfering with the perceived colour of the words (Pratto & John 1991). Findings were as expected, with negative words it took longer to name the colour of because more thorough information processing was taking place. However, attention, information processing and memory are all greatly influenced by novel stimuli so could this be a possible confound? The results were replicated with both stable and varying base rates which would suggest that it is not the unusualness of the constructs playing a part. The prioritising of negative stimuli is in this way evidenced by the complimentary nature of attention and information processing. Danger evaluation is a likely motivating factor for this attentional bias (Oehman et al. 2001)
People search for deeper meaning in bad versus good outcomes…
With regards to attributional processing, empirical evidence supports the notion that negative events stimulate a need for meaning to a greater extent than pleasant experiences. A greater search for meaning was found associated with participants experiencing the loss as oppose to the wining of a bet (Gilovich 1983) and spontaneous attributional activity has been observed in greater frequency for failures than for successes (Weiner 1985).

Critical summary and conclusion
It would appear that evolution has enhanced our attentional and information processing priorities in light of negative content pertaining to more relevant information for survival. However, there is a potential confounding factor in this kind of investigation that has not been adequately addressed in the literature thus far. The idea of familiarity, expectedness and novelty associated with certain task paradigms has not been accounted for beyond methodological base rates. In this way, inherent influential factors like general pre test experience could still be effecting the reliabilty of the results. Therefore it would be useful to try and establish knowledge of ecological base rates to make sure that intrinsic principles of experience are being recognised, as only then can a causal relationship be assessed.

Are we instinctually biased toward attending to the bad over the good or do we intentionally dwell on the negative a result of commonality of experience? If clarified, this intentional vs. instinctual question would lend insight into the overall reason behind bad driving out good, by determining whether it is a result of either evolution or socialisation. For the field of positive psychology, it is through gaining empirical understanding at this level that a broader level of scientific respect is most likely to be gained.


With any background reading on this area, in terms of 'Bad drives out good', you would expect to find that bad aspects of relationships will cause the relationship to end more quickly, and good aspects will prolong it. This, as you would expect, is the case. After reviewing the literature on the subject, we can go further and say that the bad aspects have more of an effect than the good aspects. This subtopic has many links to others, in particular, emotion, life events, health, and of course other relationships and interactions. The research can be broken down into two main areas, but they do overlap quite a bit.

Positive and Negative Communication (Mainly research by John Gottman)...
This is demonstrated in that people with high levels of satisfaction in their relationships communicate more positively, whereas people who were dissatisfied with their relationship communicate more negatively.

This was studied by Gottman, who vide-taped discussions between married couples on a range of topics, including their marital problems/conflicts as well as everyday conversation, and coded the behaviours into categories (verbal, non-verbal, positive, and negative). The main finding of the study was that the presence or absence of negative behaviours was more related to the quality of the relationship than the presence or absence of negative behaviours. It was found that positive behaviours and negative behaviours were independent of each other, i.e. having more positive behaviours will not decrease the negative behaviours and vice versa. This was supported by a further study by Gottman and Krokoff, 1989.

Further study by Gottman into the reciprocity of negative affect, and the finding that it was stronger than positive reciprocity, led him to develop a diagnostic index for evaluating relationships, which proposed that good interactions must outnumber bad ones five to one. This reciprocation can also be seen in a study by Wills et al. (1974).

Constructive and Destructive Problem Solving...
This mostly consists of longitudinal research. The first was conducted by Rusbult et al. (1986).They assessed the extent to which couples used constructive and destructive approaches to problems, and classified them accordingly. They were independent, so a couple could use both, either, or none. The study found that destructive patterns were a better predictor of the outcome of the relationship than constructive patterns, which supports Gottman's findings that negative reciprocity is a good predictior of the relationship outcome.

Similar results are seen in studies by Huston, Caughlin, Houts, Smith, and George (2001)who followed couples for more than a decade. From this research, they were able to suggest what factors in early relationships predicted divorce/unhappiness ten years later. However, due to the nature of the data, it is unable to establish a causal relationship.

Critical Summary and Conclusion
Gottman’s research suggests that the outcome of relationships can be predicted by examining the number of good interactions compared with the bad. He predicts relationships will only last if the good out ways the bad by a 5 to 1 ratio. This is an interesting theory, but can be immediately discounted when compared to research into domestic abuse. In abusive relationships, the bad aspects are certainly more prominent than the good, but victims will always make excuses and emphasise the abuser’s good qualities. Many of the studies mentioned by Baumeister also fail to establish causal relationships in what predicts the breakdown of relationships, making their findings less convincing.


The ‘bad is stronger than good’ approach can also be applied to health to some extent, but as Baumeister et al. state; they have not found a great deal of evidence. Health can be approached in two ways, 1. That bad things will have a negative effect on health more than good things will have a positive effect, and 2. That bad health will have stronger negative effect on life than good health will have a positive effect. Many of the areas mentioned under health in Baumeister such as social support, learned optimism, and reflection are mentioned elsewhere, so I won’t look into them in detail.

Bad events have a greater effect than good events on health...
The main research into this comes from various studies involving Glaser et al., and Cohen, Herbert et al. They investigate the effects of psychological stress on the immune system. They found that relative to low-stress times, immune systems are significantly compromised by the presence of psychological stress. They found that high levels of stress correlated with decreased activity of natural killer cells. They also found that teaching people relaxation techniques did not decrease/reverse the effects of stress.

Bad health has a more negative effect on life than good health has a positive effect...
Health can also be considered as the independent variable. Several researchers have studied the effects of health on general happiness and wellbeing. Research by Diener et al. suggests health has a large impact on happiness, but in actual fact the links across the entire population are quite weak.

It seems that when health is bad, it has a large effect on happiness, but variations in good health have little effect, which does conform to the ‘Bad is stronger than good’ hypothesis.

Contrary to this, a large and thorough study by Campbell et al. found that health is irrelevant to happiness, except in the elderly and chronically ill people.

Critical Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, there is a good deal of research which supports that bad things, such as stress, will have a more negative effect on health, but there hasn't been a great deal of research into the opposing idea (that good things have a good effect on health). The research on health affecting happiness also raises some points, but it seems obvious that people who are ill will be more unhappy than people who are well, and as most people are well most of the time, it won't have as much of an effect as illness.


In the hypothesis of bad driving out good, memory and life events are often linked together. This section will look at how Baumeister viewed this in his review and other critical evaluations. Although in Baumeister memory and life events are seen as seperate entities, I have linked them together, as the two seem inseperable in thier review.

Adaption level theory...
The adaption level theory supports the idea that mood is a constant and that life events both positive and negative will return to that constant over time. Brickman, Coates and Janoff-Bulman(1978) tested this theory using the "headonic treadmill" hypothesising that bad wears off slower than good. For this three groups were tested, one which had won the lottery, one which had become paralyzed and a control group which had experienced no extreme life event in the past year. The study found that the people in the paralyzed group were suffering from a "nostalgic effect" and compared thier life now to how it used to be regularly, whereas this was not the same in the lottery win group.

Some have argued that a lottery win is unsuitable to compare such a traumatic event as becoming paralyzed. Also since this experiment was using the adaption level theory, in time both positive and negative memories of the even should return to base level.

Memory fades over time...
This also links to the adaption level theory although Baumeister had removed it to a different section. an experiment carried out by Walker, Vogl and Thompson (1997) set out to see if the memory of a personal event changed in emotional intensity over time. This was reviewed at 3 months, 1 year and 4.5 years. The study found that intensity of personal life events fade as time goes on, especially for negative memories.
It would seem that although negative life events can have more of an impact on memory, over time this will return to a basline. Memories will still be easily recalled, but not affect self.

Loss is felt more than gain....
In a study carried out by Khneman and Tversky (1984) participants where told they had either won or lost $50. There was found significant levels of distress in the group who had lost in comparison to any good feelings of a win.

Trauma advocates very strong support for Baumeister's view. Especially when they occur in early life. Events such as child abuse and sexual abuse can lead to long lasting, even chronic problems, such as depression, relationship problems and social dysfunction. Several studies have reviewed the long lasting and life changing problem that trauma causes. It is difficult to find many positive life events to counter this, however accounts of "life changing experiences" should be taken into account.

Mood congruence, good mood vs bad mood...
Several studies have shown that mood after events can have a significant effect on following day's. A study carried out by David, Green,Martin and Suls (1997) followed a diary study of good and bad events. They found that good events would elict a good congruent mood and that a bad event could elict either a good or bad congruent mood. This study does not show huge support for Baumeister's theory.

Another study in this area carried out by Ryan and Reis (1996) studied the long lasting effect of everyday events. They found that a bad mood would carry on to the next day, which was not found to be true of good moods.
Baumeister has contradicting evidence of mood congruence, but due to the asymmetry of the studies he cannot draw clear conclusions on the subject.

Bad recalled better than good....
Several studies have shown that in recall tasks that bad is recalled better than good. In one study carried out by Dreben, Fiske and Hastie (1979) a study on recall of good and bad behaviour was carried out. In their results they found that sentences portraying undesirable behaviour were recalled more frequently.

This view has been backed up by several studies, however this changes when people are asked to regard themselves.

Minimization hypothesis, self over others....
When studying bad over good behaviour biases that flatter the self make recall of your own bad behaviours less likely. One study carried out by Skowronski, Betz, Thompson and Shanon (1991) compared the memory of good and bad events for self and a close friend. They found that for the friend the amount of memories concerning good and bad were recalled at a similar level, however for self there was a bias for positive events. This result follows Taylor's(1991) minimization hypothesis, that people will down-play thier own bad events to create a more positive outlook.

opposition to bad.....
Baumeister claim's in his paper that there is "no opposite to trauma" this may indeed be true, however throughout his paper no opposite is even suggested. Several studies offer powerful opposite feelings. A study carried out by Pillemer, Ivcevic, Gooze and Collins (2007) carried out a study to relate self-esteem and memories. Although not the main focus, this study found that positive memories of self, related around achievement and mastery. This is an important point as moments of high acheivement could offer an equal positive "high"for comparison with negative "low's".

Turn trauma into a positive....
There is no denying that severe trauma can have serious and long lasting effects. However Baumeister failed to review evidence following the old proverb of " whatever does not kill you makes you stronger". There are many papers who's focus of trauma are the positive aspects which can arise from tradgedy.

One study who's focus is the positive side of trauma was carried out by Hemenover (2003). The study allowed participants to disclose thier traumatic events, in writing, with a clear point put on insight and causation. The study found that participants increased in positive self-perception and decreased in distress in a pre to post test. The study also found that disclosur of the trauma could change self-perception to a far more resiliant form. Hemonover states: "Cultivating the best in human nature may require living through (and making sense of) the worst of human experiences." p1242 This statement clearly backs the point that bad events do not have to lead to more negative results, but can indeed create something far more powerful and positive than the initial negative event.

Mood regulation and age.....
One area that Baumeister clearly seems to miss out is how age can affect mood. Many studies have found that age can have a clear impact on regulating and maintaining mood. A study carried out by Issaacowitz, Toner, Goren and Wilson (2008) looked into gaze and mood congruence in relation to age.
Older and younger participants in varying moods, where shown face pairs varying in positive and negative emotion. The study found that younger adults displayed mood-congruent gaze, however older participant showed mood-incongruent gaze seeking positive faces when in a negative mood.

The findings of this study suggest that older participants used gaze to regulate thier mood rather then reflect it, like thier younger counterparts.

Critical summary/conclusion...

Baumeister et al (2001) contribute a huge range of information for both memory and life events. The majority of the information is in support of the central theme, that bad is stronger than good. It is hard to create clear comparisons between studies as all use different methods and are often from very different diciplines.

Baumeister et al (2001) also overlook some serious opposing views, in particular the positive effect that acheivement can have on a person and thier future. Also Baumeister failed to acknowledge the sub topic of age in relation to bad being stronger than good, possibly because it goes against the main hypothesis. Age offers a good opposing argument to the bad being stronger than good theory as it has been found that older adults intentially seek posititive stimuli to both regulate and maintain a positive mood.


“Social support is usually defined in terms of emotional bolstering and practical assistance received from other people, particularly friends, relatives, and other relationship partners.” (Baumeister, 2001, p338). Having a good social support network is extremely important and what is more essential is that this network is positive as negativity can lead to various difficulties. This will be discussed further in the section. However, even in positive networks, the negative aspects can easily take over. The following takes information from the paper by Baumeister et al (2001) from which the authors have presented numerous evidence to suggest that within the area of social support, bad is stronger than good.

Negative effects will have a larger impact than positive on our social relationships...
Manne, Taylor, Dougherty and Kemeny (1997) have found negative aspects in a social support network have a much stronger effect on well-being and health than positive aspects will. Fiore, Becker and Coppel (1983) rated people in their social network as to how much they were a source of conflict and distress compared with how helpful and optimistic they were. They found that how much a person rated people in their social network as upsetting predicted how depressed they were.

When faced with difficult times, negative aspects in a relationship can have a large impact on the emotions of those facing hardship...
Pagel, Erdly and Becker (1987) researched over a period of 10 months, the contributions of a person’s social support network on people caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease. They found that negative aspects of support resulted in greater depression and very little satisfaction with their network. Similar to this, Finch, Okun, Barrera, Zautra and Reich (1989) found that in a sample of recently bereaved or disabled older adults, along with a control group, negative social support resulted in a lower sense of well-being and high distress whereas positive social support resulted in a high sense of well-being. In a group of people who had lost their jobs, Vinokur and van Ryn (1993) found that social conflict was related to mental health with positive support having a weak effect on mental health and social conflict having a strong effect.

Critical summary and conclusion
Overall, negative interactions in a social support network have stronger effects than positive interactions and the majority of evidence presented by Baumeister et al (2001) seems to confirm this. However, there are some minor criticisms that could be made. The number of people in the network may be a factor and in addition, so might be the ratio of positive interactions to negative. If there are a small number of people in a person's support network and they give little emotional support then it may be expected that a person would become unhappy with their network. However, if there are a large number of people in a person's network and the majority have positive attitudes and offer a large amount of support and assistance, then this could outweigh negativity.
There is also the question as to why people would have individuals in their network who lead them to feel depressed or unhappy. Family and good friends are ideally meant to offer support and it would be expected that this is the case in the majority of social networks. Despite this, the majority of evidence presented by Baumeister et al (2001) does suggest that negative aspects can have a greater effect on a person than the positive and people will remember negative things a lot easier. If this is the case though, then surely people should consider who is in the their network and the way these people make one feel if negative aspects can have such an impact.


First impressions are extremely important. Judgements about people are considered to be made within the first minute of meeting ( and so in many situations it seems sensible to make first impressions count. Studies have shown that bad information about a stimulus or acquaintance has a bigger impact on forming impressions than good information does. This is known as positive-negative asymmetry or the negativity bias. The following studies summarised below were included by Baumeister et al (2001) as supporting evidence of the negativity bias, and some criticisms of these are also included. As forming impressions and stereotypes are two similar topics, the criticisms and conclusions of these two areas have been grouped together.

Averaging models...
Anderson (1965) argued that people form impressions about others by adding up all the good and bad information about a person and then averaging it. He gave participants a number of personality traits and found that trait adjectives that were negative had a stronger influence than those that were positive. In support of the averaging model, Feldman (1966) had participants rate people who were described as having one positive trait, one negative trait or both (one positive and one negative) traits. Feldman found that the bad information resulted in a much stronger impression. This was further supported by Wyer and Hinkle (1971).

Hodges (1974) found that the averaging model predicted people’s impressions of others when only both traits describing a person were positive. When the traits describing a person were either both negative or one positive and one negative, then the negative trait was a lot stronger and so it was concluded that bad information had a stronger effect on the overall impression.

Good behaviour is expected but bad traits aren’t...
This view was put forward by Hamilton and Huffman (1971) who found that negative traits had more weight in forming impressions than positive ones. They argued that this was because good behaviour is simply expected - we expect people we meet to be polite, have good manners and behave well. What we don't expect is for individuals to possess negative traits, and so when we find out something bad about a person this seems to stick in our mind more clearly than any positive traits we discover about them. This is, the authors argued, because bad information tells a lot more about a person (e.g., if they can be trusted) than good information does.

In terms of likeability, negative information is stronger than positive information...
Fiske (1980) showed participants photographs with positive or negative behaviours and with different extremes. They found that negative behaviours affected likeability more than positive behaviours did and the more extreme the negative behaviour, the more this affected likeability.
Supporting evidence for this has also been found in recent studies. Yzerbet and Leyens (1991) described to participants an acting role that was likeable or unlikeable and they had to decide if an actor was able to play one of those roles. They were first told how much information would be given about each actor and given this a bit at a time so they could make their decision whenever they wanted. When the participants were given a little amount of information about the actor, negative traits had a larger impact and this was enough to render the actor unsuitable for the likeable role. On the other hand, a small amount of evidence suggesting that the actor was likeable was not enough for the participants to disregard them for the unlikeable role. The study also found that the order in which information was presented also affected judgements. When positive information was followed by negative, participants quickly rejected the actors.

Category diagnosticity in forming impressions...
This theory was conceptualised by Skowronski and Carlston (1989). By this they meant the extent to which behaviours can be useful for making certain judgements about people, as some behaviours can provide more information about a person than others. Behavioural traits that are more diagnostic will have a greater influence on impressions and it is thought that traits or behaviours that are negative are more diagnostic then positive behaviours (Baumeister et al , 2001). For example, to be judged as bad a person may only have to do a few bad things, but to be seen as good, a person must be good all the time. Skowronski and Carlston (1992) tested this and found a negativity bias for moral behaviours (e.g., honesty).
However, it has been found that when forming impressions there are certain types of positive information that are stronger than negative information. Skowronski and Carlston (1987) found a negativity bias which was strong for moral traits, but a positivity bias for competence traits. For example, intelligent behaviours had a greater influence than stupid ones. Therefore, an intelligent person can sometimes do a stupid thing but this won’t change people’s impressions of them, however, in relation to moral behaviour, if a person is morally bad and this is the basis for a negative impression, then that impression won’t change by simply carrying out some morally good behaviour.

First impressions can have a large effect in interview situations...
Bolster and Springbett (1961) found that opinions of a person changed at interview depending on if the interviewer was given good or bad information. It was concluded that to make a good impression, 8.8 pieces of good information were needed, but to make a bad impression only 3.8 pieces of information were needed. This is similar to findings relating to relationships, as for a relationship to work, for every negative behaviour that occurs, more positive behaviour needs to occur to change any negative impressions. In addition, Webster (1964) argued that negative information is used to reject candidates more so than positive information is used to hire them.


It is argued that negative impressions are greatly influential in shaping and preserving stereotypes (Baumeister et al, 2001). The researchers highlighted two studies by Mullen and Johnson (1990) and Rothbart and Park (1986).

Mullen and Johnson (1990) carried out a meta-analysis of 23 studies looking at illusory correlation in the formation of stereotypes. Illusory correlations occur when false associations are given. They found that negative behaviours had a stronger effect than positive or neutral behaviours, and in addition it was minority groups that were more likely to be given negative stereotypes because of illusory correlations.

Rothbart and Park (1986) found that stereotypes were confirmed quickly with unfavourable traits. Unfavourable traits needed to only occur a few times to confirm any stereotypes but favourable traits needed to occur many times for disconfirmation of negative stereotypes.

Critical summary and conclusion
The areas of forming impressions and stereotypes are very similar and so the conclusions and criticisms for these two areas have been grouped together. Baumeister et al (2001) have produced a substantial amount of evidence to back up the claim that bad is stronger than good. There are some minor criticisms, for example, these negative formations may only occur for people that we don’t need. These people may only be in our lives for a short period of time and so any negative traits ma stand out more than positive. For people that we do need, such as a new boss, we may try not to think negatively about them as we need them to be on our side at work, will co-operate very closely with them and also depend on them to keep us in a job. However, this may not be the case. People may think negative thoughts about people they need but are just unlikely to admit to them. Overall, however, from the majority of evidence presented by Baumeister et al (2001) it appears that negative traits do outweigh positive when it comes to forming impressions and stereotypes.


At first it seems that the ‘self’ is one area of research in psychology which would not lend support to the hypothesis that bad is stronger than good, due to the well-known phenomenon of the self-serving bias where people hold overly positive views of themselves (Taylor & Brown, 1988). The majority of people score higher than average on scores of self-esteem (Baumeister et al, 1989) and we underestimate others’ positive traits to further enhance our own (Goethals et al, 1991). However it is thought that in fact we use this tactic in order to protect ourselves from having a negative view of ourselves, which indeed supports the hypothesis that bad is stronger than good. This may be linked to the primitive basic drives of our ancestors to avoid pain and seek pleasure – the former of the two being considered more important for survival.

People use self-protection strategies more than self-enhancement ones...
The motivation to maintain a positive view of the self can be divided into two strategies: self-protection (which prevents a negative image of the self) and self-enhancement (which promotes a positive image). If bad is stronger than good, self-protection strategies should be used more often. Ogilvie (1987) compared people’s motivations to become more like their ideal self and less like their undesired self, and found that the latter correlated more highly with people’s life satisfaction scores, showing that the drive to protect themselves from a negative view of the self was stronger. Baumeister et al (1989) also looked at the use of these two strategies in comparison to different levels of self-esteem. They found that those low in self-esteem were more pre-occupied with self-protection strategies, especially when faced with negative events. Those who scored highly on measures of self-esteem seemed to focus more on self-enhancement, which would suggest that for these people, good is stronger than bad. However, when faced with negative events, they made more external attributions for the causes, thus protecting themselves from a bad self concept. Blaine & Crocker (1993) state that these individuals are not less affected by the strength of negative events, instead they just do not expect them to happen, and they have very strong effects on the individual when they do.

Self-handicapping procedures used more often for self-protection than self-enhancement...
Self-handicapping procedures are used by individuals to make excuses for anticipated poor performance in a task. They can serve the person in two ways: when they fail they have something to blame their poor performance on, and when they are successful, their ability is emphasised by the fact that they have overcome the difficulty without putting in the necessary effort. Tice (1991) asked participants to carry out various tasks such as nonverbal intelligence tests and hand-eye coordination tests. The subjects were told that their tasks had varying levels of importance and were allowed different amounts of practice time. It was found that self-handicapping was used more often for self-protection than for self-enhancement overall by individuals with both high and low self-esteem.

People engage in the self-serving bias more often for self-protection...
Klein(1992) found significant biases for both positive and negative events, but these biases were stronger for the latter. Participants were questioned about whether or not they participated in certain positive and negative health-related behaviours, such as eating healthy, brushing their teeth, and eating salty foods. Participants claimed that they more often carried out the positive behaviours and less often the negative behaviours than their peers. This bias was stronger for the negative behaviour.

People are more optimistic about future negative events than positive ones...
Hoorens (1995) asked participants to rate the likelihood of certain positive and negative events happening to them in the future compared to the chance of them happening to their peers. He found that personal optimism was higher for negative events than positive ones: participants would underestimate their chances of negative events happening to them more than they would overestimate the likelihood of positive ones.

Negative thinking before a task leads to better performance...
Goodhart (1986) found that pre-task thinking, such as "No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to grasp certain things" encouraged more motivation and better performance on the task than pre-task positive thinking "Deep down I think I’m a pretty competent person".

Criticisms and conclusion...
From the evidence provided in Baumeister et al’s 2001 review it appears that in relation to the self, bad is stronger than good. It has consistently been found that humans are more motivated to protect themselves from having a bad self image than enhancing a positive concept of the self. However, a closer look at some of these findings can raise some important questions. Previous studies by Baumeister et al (1989) found that those high in self-esteem more often use self-enhancement strategies. As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the majority of the general population score higher than average on measures of self esteem, which would therefore predict that on the contrary most people must in fact be using self-enhancement strategies. What was found in the study was that these types of people are not less affected by negative events, but just do not expect them to happen. Surely then, this represents an overall positive outlook on life. Personal optimism was also described in the paper, and the authors stated that optimism was higher for future negative events than positive ones. They translate this as being another example of self-protection from bad events, but it could quite as easily suggest that a positive outlook is overcoming the negative outlook. Further, there may be some methodological issues too as the writers admit themselves that "in many cases self-protection and self-enhancement strategies are indistinguishable from one another". This clearly shows that previous studies may not necessarily have measured what they said they did. As mentioned before, much of these findings have been interpreted quite subjectively and so they must be viewed with caution.


It is also clear from research that has looked into the effects of feedback on positive and negative events that bad appears to be stronger than good. Baumeister et al (2001) suggest that it is likely we receive feedback during everyday events, and the fact that bad days are often more remembered/have more effect on us than good days seems to point to the fact that bad feedback is stronger than good. We know from experience that if we are in a bad mood and something good happens, it must be something really quite special or out of the ordinary to lift us out of our depressed mood whereas it does not take a particularly negative event to ruin a good mood.

Negative feedback causes people to use more self-protection strategies than positive feedback...
Agostinelli et al (1992) looked at subjects’ responses to positive, negative or no feedback after completing a decision-making task. This feedback concerned their own performances as well as those of subjects in the other conditions. It was found that those who received negative feedback, ie they failed at the task, rated failure as being more common and success as more rare for the task compared to those in the ‘no feedback’ group. However, those who received positive feedback did not rate the likelihood of failure or success in the control group as being significantly different from their own. This shows that the negative feedback had much more of an effect on the participants and they made use of self-protection strategies to overcome these effects.

Negative feedback from teachers has more of an impact on students’ own perceptions...
Coleman et al (1987) looked at students’ reactions to feedback from their teachers and found that negative feedback had more of an impact on the students’ perceptions of their own ability than positive did, and was also rated as being more true of the teacher’s evaluations of the students.

Negative feedback has more effect on self-esteem in social situations...
Leary et al (1995) carried out a couple of studies to look at individuals’ reactions to social acceptance versus social rejection. In one study participants were told that they had been included in or rejected from groups either by random selection or by others’ choices. The random assignment of groups had no effect at all, but only the rejection by other members led to a change in the participants’ self-esteem. In another study, the researchers told participants that they had or had not been liked, accepted by or were desired to be met by another person who had listened to their self-disclosures. In the negative feedback condition, ie when participants were rejected, their measures of self-esteem were lower than they had been at the beginning of the test. Those who received no feedback or positive feedback had no differences in their self-esteem scores.

When negative feedback is borderline, effects are enhanced...
Medvec & Savitsky (1997) looked at the effects of borderline feedback. They compared students who had only just made it into a grade category (received a low A) compared to those who had barely missed one (a high B). The latter group were more distraught and disappointed than the former, and this was especially so for those who had missed the grade by a very small margin.

Criticisms and conclusions...
The evidence provided by Baumeister et al seems to support the bad is stronger than good hypothesis. There are not many criticisms to be made against this section as the findings provide good evidence of this effect. We also know from experience that bad days tend to have more of an effect on us than good days, it is easier to ruin a good mood than lift ourselves out of a bad mood, and we tend to ruminate more about failing a test than acing one. However, feedback is an area of research which is likely to come up in other areas, such as the self and memory, so there may be criticisms of the findings mentioned in those sections of the page.


If bad is stronger than good, then in learning, performance will be enhanced if punishment is enforced rather than reward. Beumeister highlights several studies which suggest that this is the case, supporting his hypothesis that bad is stronger than good. However, this area is being constantly debated, particularly in the field of education because of the implications for effective learning in children and contradictory evidence suggests otherwise.

Learning is better when punishment rather than reward is used…

Spence and Segner (1967) compared the effectiveness of punishments and rewards in a learning task. Both verbal (wrong Vs correct) and non-verbal (loud tone Vs candy) punishments and rewards were tested. Learning was better for both types of punishment than for reward. The problem with this experiment is with equating the reward and punishment. Candy and loud tone may not be equivalent measurements.

Costanini and Hoving (1973) tried to equate reward and punishment in their learning experiment. Subjects were first given response inhibition training. They then carried out 2 inhibition performance tasks involving walking along a board as slowly as possible and waiting for as long as possible to tell the experimenter after discovering matched animals. Half were rewarded for inhibiting and half were punished for not inhibiting. The reward group were given an empty container and instructed to win marbles and the punishment group were given a container full of marbles and instructed not to lose any. In both tasks, the punishment group performed better than the reward group. It was concluded that motivation to avoid losing something is greater than the motivation of gaining something.

Punishment is more effective in learning, regardless of age…
Tindall and Ratliff (1974) explored learning by punishment and reward in children of different developmental stages. Participants were either first graders (6.4 years), forth graders (9.4 years) or eighths graders (13.5) years. They were assigned to 3 conditions. In the reward condition, they received a reward token for correct responses. In the punishment condition, a loud tone was administered following incorrect responses. And in the reward-punishment condition, they received both a token for correct responses and a loud tone for incorrect responses. Those in the punishment condition performed better than those in the reward group and those in the reward-punishment group. This result was consistent across the different age groups suggesting punishment is more effective than reward regardless of age.

Critical summary and conclusions
Although these studies infer that bad is stronger than good by demonstrating that we learn better by punishment than by reward, there are methodological problems which must be taken into consideration. For example, it is difficult to say whether the rewards and punishments were of equal magnitude. Is rewarding with candy really the same as punishing with a loud-tone? In addition, these experimental measures are unlikely to be transferable to real life. When are we ever subjected to a loud tone when we do something wrong? Future research into the effects of positive and negative feedback on learning, for example, would help clarify which is a more important for efficient learning.

Evidence against
A study by Spear (1970) examined motivational effects of praise and criticism of children’s learning. Subjects learned either an easy or difficult 2-choice discrimination task. Reinforcement was given after each response by the experimenter either approving or disapproving. Subjects receiving criticism were slower to respond in the next trial than those who received praise. It was concluded that criticism and praise effect motivation rather than learning. However, motivation is linked to learning and if you are not motivated to learn, you will not learn so well. Therefore, this experiment suggests that good can be more effective than bad in terms of praise and criticism in learning tasks. This contradicts the point made by Baumeister in his review that bad is always stronger than good in learning.


The hypothesis that bad drives out good is backed up by evidence from child development studies. Firstly, a child has the ability to express negative emotions before positive. Also, an environment that falls within the normal range is required for normal development to take place, anything out with this environment can cause lasting harm whereas any positive additions to the normal environment does not seem to have an effect.

A child is able to display discomfort before displaying pleasure…
Bridges (1932) observed the displays of emotion made by infants between the ages of 0-2 years. The first emotion a child displays is negative, i.e. crying in response to pain or distress. This is evident from birth. It is not until around 3 months that an infant displays the first positive expression, a smile. It is thought that crying is an innate feature in infants whereas smiling is learned. This is an example of negativity bias in child development.

A bad environment leads to worse development whereas a good environment not does improve development…
Scarr (1992) studied the effects of heredity and environment on child development. It was found that good parents or a positive environment can not produce any better development than average parents and average environment. However, bad parents or a bad environment can cause lasting harm to child development. Average parents have the same effect on their child’s development as wonderful parents. This is another example that bad is more powerful than good.

A bad environment can make genetically smart children end up less intelligent but a good environment can not make genetically unintelligent children smarter…
Rowe et al (1999) found a good family environment had no effect on those predisposed to high IQ but a bad family environment caused those who were predisposed to high IQ to fall short of their potential. In a group where the parents were highly educated, environmental influences did not contribute to IQ. However, in a group where the parents had less than a high school education, the children had low IQ regardless of environment. This was described by Baumeister as another case of bad being stronger than good.

Conclusion and critical summary
The evidence seems to support the hypothesis that bad is stronger than good in the field of child development. However, the fact we are born able to cry but we must learn to smile could rather suggest that we are better at learning positive expressions than negative expressions. Thus this would contradict the hypothesis that bad is stronger than good. Furthermore, the evidence which Baumeister portrayed on IQ and child development could be misleading. Is it suggested that being born into a genetic background of low IQ can not be over-ridden by a good environment. If one of the 2 factors contributing to IQ (genetics and environment) is negative, the outcome will be negative and cause low IQ but if one is positive it is not enough to create high IQ. However, genes and environment are 2 different and unequal concepts. A minimum level of both of them is required to obtain average IQ and missing either one of them makes a difference. Therefore assuming bad is stronger than good as the Baumeister paper suggests, is flawed in this case. It doesn’t mean bad is stronger than good, it just means there is a certain standard that much be reached for normal development to take place, and if this standard isn’t attained development is impaired.

Extensive Reference Section

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