It’s totally understandable to feel ambivalent when presented with both positive and negative evidence. However, people often feel ambivalent even when all the news is good or bad, anticipating conflict before it arises. The first empirical demonstration of this reaction appears in new study from the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Many people recognize that there are often two sides to every story and that nothing is perfect (or completely worthless),” explains Joseph R. Priester (University of Southern California), Richard E. Petty (Ohio State University) and Kiwan Park (Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea). “Thus, even if they are unaware of any negative features of a mostly positive product (or unaware of any positive features of a mostly negative product), they may assume that such features exist.”

One important factor in the phenomenon, which the researchers term “anticipated conflicting reactions,” is the number of positive or negative pieces of information provided. The researchers found that the more information consumers are given, the less likely they are to suspect the existence of conflicting information of which they are unaware.

“At the most basic, this paper advances and finds support for a new construct, the anticipation of conflicting reactions. Importantly, this construct helps to explain why univalent attitudes sometimes are associated with ambivalence,” the authors write.

Joseph R. Priester, Richard E. Petty and Kiwan Park, “Whence Univalent Ambivalence" From the Anticipation of Conflicting Reactions.” Journal of Consumer Research: June 2007.