Uncertainty can be more stressful than clear negative feedback

Nov 20, 2008

Some individuals would rather receive clear negative information than deal with ambiguity or uncertainty, according to new research out of the University of Toronto.

In a new study published in Psychological Science, U of T researchers examined whether people reacted more strongly to negative or to uncertain feedback. Participants' brain activity was measured as they completed a series of tasks and were given clear positive, clear negative or ambiguous feedback.

Study authors Jacob Hirsh and Michael Inzlicht looked at the response of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain area associated with error-monitoring and conflict-related anxiety. They found that individuals with high levels of neuroticism, a personality trait related to negative emotion and anxiety, showed stronger responses in this brain region when they were given uncertain feedback, compared to when they were given unambiguous negative feedback.

"Uncertainty can be very stressful," says Hirsh, a PhD student and lead author on the paper. "What this study shows is that neurotic individuals are actually more comfortable with clear negative information than they are with uncertainty – even when the outcome of that uncertainty could be positive. In other words, people who are high in neuroticism appear to prefer the devil they know over the devil they don't know."

Source: University of Toronto

Explore further: Tweeting about sexism may improve a woman's wellbeing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First precise MEMS output measurement technique unveiled

May 14, 2013

The commercial application of MEMS, or micro-electro-mechanical systems, will receive a major boost today following the presentation of a brand new way to accurately measure the power requirements and outputs ...

Recommended for you

Tweeting about sexism may improve a woman's wellbeing

Jan 30, 2015

This is one of the findings of a study by Dr Mindi Foster, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada that is published today, Friday 30 January 2015, in the British Journal of Social Psychology. The study was supported by the So ...

How poverty may affect memory

Jan 30, 2015

Working memory, how we actively hold and manipulate information in our mind, is a cognitive skill used on a daily basis.  How effectively working memory performs, however, is not as universal as one may think.  In an open ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.