Prismatic effects of negative ties

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Research on negative ties has focused primarily on the harm they do. In this paper, we show that negative ties can also have beneficial effects. We argue that, like positive ties, negative ties can link actors together in the minds of observers. As a result, we theorize that negative ties with high-status actors can benefit a focal actor, whereas negative ties with low-status actors can harm the focal actor. This prismatic effect depends on the existing status of the focal actor: a focal actor of low status is likely to benefit far more from negative ties with high-status actors and suffer more from negative ties with low-status actors than will an actor of high-status. To test our ideas, we analyze the phenomenon of “diss songs” in hip-hop music. A diss song is a song in which a rapper makes derogatory comments about another rapper, constituting a negative tie. We analyze the effects of negative ties among 53 rappers over 20 points in time on audience reaction as measured by record sales. We find that negative ties with high-status actors enhance future sales for low-status actors. However, negative ties with lower-status actors have no effect on the future sales of both low- and high-status actors. Just as some researchers have reported both positive and negative consequences of social capital, our study demonstrates that negative ties can also have both positive and negative outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-33
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Networks
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the editorial team of this special issue and members of the LINKS Center for Social Network Analysis at the University of Kentucky for their insightful suggestions. We also thank Jesse Hofrichter, Kristine Hankins, and participants of the Conference on Negative Ties and Signed Graphs and the 2019 Sunbelt Conference in Montreal for their helpful feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Negative ties
  • Network ties as prisms
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (all)
  • Psychology (all)


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