There's good news and bad news. Which do people want first? Given the choice, a new study shows, most people would rather have them at roughly the same time.

Two psychologists at Duke University examined 107 subjects in order to determine whether people would rather experience two emotionally positive (or negative) events on the same day or on separate days, and what mental mechanisms are used to make such judgments.

The study, reported in the January Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that subjects generally preferred to separate two good events ("gain-savoring"), and to separate two bad events ("multiple-loss avoidance"), but to combine positive and negative events ("loss-buffering"). The preferences were the same whether the good/bad news was financial, social or academic.

These results, the authors say, indicate that people regard themselves as having limited but "renewable" mental resources that are consumed in coping with either positive or negative events, but which can be replenished over time.

Too much bad or good news at once may deplete scarce resources and over-stress the individual, the reasoning goes, so people prefer to combine negative and positive events "because the gain will generate loss-buffering resources to counteract the loss."