"I am not guilty" vs "I am innocent": Successful negation may depend on the schema used for its encoding

Ruth Mayo*, Yaacov Schul, Eugene Burnstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Scopus citations


Negations (e.g., "Jim is not guilty") are part of our daily language and communication. Linguistic and non-linguistic negations can occur when receivers counter-argue what communicators are saying, when hypotheses are disconfirmed, or through negative cognitive responses and many other social interactive processes. Our study explores how negations are encoded by considering the predictions of two theoretical models. According to the fusion model, the core of a negated message and the negation marker are integrated into one meaningful unit. Thus, Jim in the example might be encoded within the schema "innocence." According to the schema-plus-tag model, a negated message is represented as a core supposition and a negation tag, allowing for dissociation of the two at a later point in time. We compare the two models by examining the nature of inferences that are facilitated by negations. Our results show that the existence of a schema that accommodates the meaning of the original negation is critical in determining how a negation will be encoded. When such a schema is not readily available, processing a negated message facilitates negation- incongruent associations, in line with predictions of the schema-plus-tag model. This model is also supported by analyses of respondents' memory. We discuss implications of these findings for the communication of negated information, for discounting theories, and for the assessment of the truth of incoming information.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)433-449
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by grants from the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the Israeli Foundation Trustees. We would like to thank Liran Rasinski, Yasmin Folder, and Orly Carmi for their help in conducting the experiments and Rachel Giora for comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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