Mum Effect: What Is It And How Does It Affect Relationships

Unconsciously, we tend to minimize and manipulate bad news by delivering it to those affected.

MUM effect

People do not act the same as when we are in a group. Nor do we do it the same when we are with another person.

In other words, the presence (real, imagined or implicit) of others influences how we think, feel and behave. Social psychology is responsible for studying and understanding these relationships and influences.

Within it, there are numerous phenomena that appear in the interrelation of people and in the perception we have of them. Today we will talk about one of them: the MUM effect. We all like to give good news, but what about the bad news? Does the same happen with them? We will see it next.

What is the MUM effect?

When we must communicate bad news, we often resist it or distort it, even make it less negative. This occurs even if we have nothing to do with such news.

The reason is that we do not want to be associated with the negative event, and as a consequence, to be considered less attractive.

The MUM effect occurs in the face of a wide variety of news, circumstances, and potential recipients. Even so, although it is a very frequent and validated effect, it is not a universal phenomenon. Take, for example, the newscasts; we have the feeling that they “always” convey bad news; or for example myths, rumors, etc.

It seems then that the MUM effect is associated with situations in which the news affects one’s own well-being or that of the potential recipient.

Why does it appear? Its causes

The MUM effect has to do in social psychology with the theories of reinforcement. The theories of reinforcement (Lott and Lott, Byrne) speak of the attraction to people who are present or who do something that activates an affect, be it positive or negative.

On the other hand, people, whether consciously or unconsciously, seek to please others, feel accepted, etc. This is a natural and human phenomenon, which occurs to preserve and enhance self-esteem.

In general, we can talk about several concerns that make it difficult or impossible for us to communicate bad news:

  • Concern for our own well-being, wanting to avoid a feeling of guilt.
  • Concern for the welfare of the recipient (out of empathy) when receiving bad news.
  • Use situational norms such as “do what needs to be done” as a guide.
  • Fear that we will be associated with the bad news and consequently, that we will be less attractive.

These four explanations have been evidenced by scientific experimentation to explain the causes of the MUM effect. In this way, and in relation to the first point, concern for one’s own well-being, we are talking about a fear of having a feeling of guilt for communicating something negative to someone.

We can relate this to the “belief in a just world”, that is, believing that injustices do not exist and that we all have what we deserve (both good and bad). It would be a cognitive bias of the vision of reality, which many people manifest.

Thus, communicating something that is unfair in addition to being bad, would conflict with our beliefs about the world, and could also generate these feelings of guilt or even sadness. And, of course, people tend to avoid feeling unwell or sad.

Worries about delivering bad news

Delving a little more into these concerns, it is known that we do not want the recipient to feel sad “because of us”, even if it is an irrational thought and we have nothing to do with the news. We are the mere transmitter, but nevertheless, when people are asked why they should or should not communicate good or bad news, they tend to focus their attention on the receiver.

The MUM effect also occurs when we make a frequent mistake: assuming that the receiver will not want to hear the bad news.

Take, for example, doctors; It has been seen in some surveys that many believe that patients do not want to hear bad news. However, the latter say they want to hear them.

It is known that the better a message is, the more willing we will be to transmit it. But it does not happen in the same way when the message is negative, since once it is bad; it does not matter if it is to a greater or lesser extent, since the willingness to communicate will always be low.

Social rules and receiver in the MUM effect

There are often no clear rules on what to do with bad news, whether to communicate it or not. It seems that when the news is good, the rules are clearer than when they are bad.

In addition, many times, when saying bad news, there are consequences in the receiver (sadness, anger, anger …) that we will not always know how to manage. This can be scary, in addition to worrying about not wanting to appear nosy or nosy. To avoid being sensations, we hide the bad news.

The MUM effect is reduced when the senders know for sure that the recipient of the news (good or bad) wants to know it. Thus, the fear or concern about giving bad news dissipates, and we end up expressing it without distorting it.

Bibliographic references:

  • Tesser, A., & Rosen, S. (1975). The reluctance to transmit bad news. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.). Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 8, pp. 194-232. New York: Academic Press.
  • Hogg, MA (2010). Social psychology. VAUGHAN GRAHAM M. PANAMERICANA. Publisher: PANAMERICANA

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