I'm Afraid I Have Something Bad to Tell You: Breaking Bad News From the Perspective of the Giver1


  • 1

    This research was supported by a Bucknell University Summer Research Fellowship award to Tara Eberhardt McKee and J. T. Ptacek. Tara Eberhardt McKee is now at the University of Connecticut.

2 Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to J. T. Ptacek, Department of Psychology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837. e-mail: ptacek@bucknell.edu


College students (N= 90) completed a questionnaire designed to assess their recollection of a time that they delivered bad news. Responses were provided about whether each of 72 possible characteristics of such transactions occurred in addition to the impact each had on the ease of delivering the news. Participants also provided information about the stress associated with the process and their perceptions of the anxiety experienced by the receiver of the news. Three important findings emerged: (a) there was substantial diversity in the type of bad news that givers recalled transmitting; (b) students reported a wide variety of experiences associated with the bad-news process, with a sizable cluster of these experiences seeming to typify such transactions across students and news type; and (c) the level of stress associated with the bad-news process was generally high, and it was associated with what students thought about and did during the transaction.