The negation bias: When negations signal stereotypic expectancies

C.J. Beukeboom, C. Finkenauer, D.H.J. Wigboldus

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Research on linguistic biases shows that stereotypic expectancies are implicitly reflected in language and are thereby subtly communicated to message recipients. We examined whether these findings extend to the use of negations (e.g., not smart instead of stupid). We hypothesized that people use more negations in descriptions of stereotype-inconsistent behavior than in descriptions of stereotype-consistent behavior. In 3 studies, participants either judged the applicability of experimentally controlled person descriptions or spontaneously produced person descriptions themselves. Results provided support for this hypothesis. Moreover, a 4th study demonstrated that negations have communicative consequences. When a target person's behavior was described with negations, message recipients inferred that this behavior was an exception to the rule and that it was more likely caused by situational circumstances than by dispositional factors. These findings indicate that by using negations people implicitly communicate stereotypic expectancies and that negations play a subtle but powerful role in stereotype maintenance. © 2010 American Psychological Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)978-992
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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