Good news or bad news first?

No things in life are absolute, we attribute characteristics and values to things relative to other things in our experiences. If someone brought out a vintage armoire made in Germany during the 1800’s you would not be able to say exactly what value that product is worth, unless you have had some experience with German armoires. We draw our decisions based off our current set of knowledge.

According to Wikipedia,

contrast effect is the enhancement or diminishment, relative to normal, of perception, cognition or related performance as a result of successive (immediately previous) or simultaneous exposure to a stimulus of lesser or greater value in the same dimension. (Here, normal perception, cognition or performance is that which would be obtained in the absence of the comparison stimulus—i.e., one based on all previous experience.)

Perception example: A neutral gray target will appear lighter or darker than it does in isolation when immediately preceded by, or simultaneously compared to, respectively, a dark gray or light gray target. Cognition example: A person will appear more or less attractive than that person does in isolation when immediately preceded by, or simultaneously compared to, respectively, a less or more attractive person. Performance example: A laboratory rat will work faster, or slower, during a stimulus predicting a given amount of reward when that stimulus and reward are immediately preceded by, or alternated with, respectively, different stimuli associated with either a lesser or greater amount of reward.

An interesting experiment that I enjoyed was when they asked subjects to put their right hand in a bucket of warm water and left hand in a bucket of cold water. After some time, they were asked to put both hands in a bucket of room temperature water where they find themselves with their hands experiencing different sensations despite being in the same water. The hand that was in hot water, now feels cold and the hand that was in cold water now feels warm.

Today, a lender called my coworker and asked “do you want the good news first or the bad news?” I heard this and immediately thought of the contrast principle. In theory, which would be the best order of presentation? Without giving the listener an option, should the bearer of news give the bad news or good news first? If they give the good news first, does that make the bad news sound EVEN worse by contrast? Or less bad? If they give the bad news first does that diminish the value of the good news or does it make it seem better than it actually is by contrast? What do you guys think? Good news, or bad news first?




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