When it comes to delivering bad news, the learning curve for most corporations is like the terrain of Kansas—which is to say no curve at all. Take General Motors. It was in 2001 that GM got its first inkling that problems with its ignition switches could cause a car to shut off while in operation—never a good thing. More evidence surfaced in 2005 and beyond, but it was only this year that the company came clean and recalled 2.6 million vehicles—getting deservedly blowtorched not just for their design failures but for their slipperiness. So not exactly nimble.
GM is not alone. Toyota was similarly in denial about its stuck accelerator problem, as was Ford in the 1970s with its festive line of exploding Pintos. Despite the fact that across all industries, this nothing-to-see-here strategy has a success rate of precisely 0%—at least if your goal is damage control—humans in many situations persist in using it. Now, a study reported by the Association for Psychological Science sheds a little light on the reasons.
In the research, investigators Angela Legg and Kate Sweeny, then at the University of California, ran a test that involved the familiar good news/bad news dichotomy.
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