Insight of the Week
May 26, 2023

Push Negative Words Further Away From Products

A recent study tested whether negative associations from words can spread to nearby products.

The words "sunscreen prevents cancer" with cancer being pushed further away from sunscreen


Read this sentence:

  • Sunscreen prevents cancer

Consciously, you think sunscreen is good.

But subconsciously, two concepts — sunscreen and cancer — become activated in your brain. Would these competing images distort your perception of the sunscreen?

A new study tested this question (Béna, Mauclet, & Corneille, 2023).

Researchers paired fake products (e.g., Shimeron) with various consequences (e.g., skin rash). Even when participants were told that these products were preventing those harmful outcomes, they still showed weaker attitudes. Participants weren't fully separating the products from the harmful consequences they were supposed to prevent.

So, what can you do?

Bold Prevention Verbs


  • Sunscreen prevents cancer

Bolding does two things:

  1. It reinforces the preventative meaning.
  2. It inserts a visual element between the product and negative trait. Readers will visually separate the product and consequence into different groups, which should make them seem conceptually different. I've called it divergent processing in the past.

Describe Prevention With Humor

You need positive emotions to counterbalance any negative imagery.

Use Positive Frames

Positive framing is more persuasive:

  • Negative: ...won't damage skin.
  • Positive: ...soft and gentle on skin.

Other New Studies

  • Employees Work Better When They See Sunny Weather - Researchers studied 1,000 salespeople who worked in different buildings of a call center. In buildings with more windows, they converted more calls into sales: "We find that a one unit increase in happiness, on a standard 0-to-10 scale, leads to around 3 additional weekly sales" (Bellet, De Neve, & Ward, 2023).
  • Women Leave Fewer Reviews If Management is Replying - Women believe that management will be confrontational. And they're not wrong. Based on TripAdvisor reviews, responses to self-identified female reviewers were more likely to be confrontational, aggressive, and discrediting (Proserpio, Troncoso, & Valsesia, 2021).
  • Employees Feel Insecure Around Humanlike Robots - The future of AI is unclear, but one thing is certain: The fear is worse when these tools look human. In one study, employees felt less secure in their jobs when they interacted with humanlike technology because it triggered a social comparison process (Wang, Kim, & Kim, 2023).
  • Customers Prefer Bonus Packs in the Morning - People are task-oriented in the morning. They want to feel smart and productive. If they shop online, they prefer bonus packs (vs. free gifts) because they receive more units for the same price, a benefit that aligns with their mindset (Park & Yi, 2023).