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What is 'Negative Bias'?

Colleen McCarty

"The negativity bias, also known as the negativity effect, refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person's behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative. The negativity bias has been investigated within many different domains, including the formation of impressions and general evaluations; attention, learning, and memory; and decision making and risk considerations."

This is Wikipedia's definition of the Negativity Bias. 

As humans we suffer from what's called a "negative bias" - this is a real part of our neurology that developed over centuries of survival.

For example, our ancestors evolved from those people who assumed the worst. Those folks didn't eat the berries for fear they were poisonous, ran when they saw a large stick that could've been a snake, and didn't risk too much because it meant death. Negativity is hard wired into our brains.

When we start to see patterns of negative behavior, it's easy to assume the worst. This is why training our brains to see and celebrate the positive is extremely important and difficult. A negative comment has three times the staying power of a positive one.

I know that things are bad. But we can't go on without hope. Hope is a function of positivity.

When things seem really bad, like this last week, I find it helpful to zoom out a little and look for the good. This isn't to say we don't have a big fight ahead and that there isn't real work to do. But we need fuel for the fight, we need to see where we've come from and that we do have the power to change things.

This article helped me do that today.



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