Negativity Bias: A Positive Understanding

How much of your time do you spend dwelling on the negative?

Or the negative parts of the world? This negative focus can take up so much of life. Perhaps the one criticism of the day or the single insult stands out? While the multiple compliments, success, and encouragement are forgotten?

All around the world, individuals are making an impact for good.  Yet, it seems, that negative news becomes the main emphasis, and it can seems like the world is falling apart. Even in our day-to-day lives we do this. We may notice the criticism, the failures, or the obstacles, while failing to acknowledge the good in front of and all around us.

The Psychology

This negative focus has a psychological explanation. In fact, according to psychologists, who call it the negativity bias, our brains are more impacted by bad news or events rather than good things. With this negativity bias, we tend to remember insults better than praise, think more about negative moments than positive ones, and respond more strongly to bad events than the equivalent good ones.

Some examples of this negativity bias? Remembering an embarrassing event with extreme clarity, years after the fact. Focusing on the small flaws of a friend or a partner rather than considering all the positive traits and acts of kindness they have done for you. Fixating on the small critique given to a project or assignment you submitted, when the overall feedback was positive and encouraging. I know I do all of these.

As a Student

Submitting a paper can be really stressful. Waiting to hear back from my professor, I often anticipate a negative response. When I finally receive her notes, I find myself quickly flipping through the pages, noticing all the pen marks. These marks become negative before I even read what they say. Instead of viewing her feedback as positive notes, my thoughts are often that her marks indicate a failure on my part. Finally, when I have read them, I tend to fixate on the few corrections even if the majority of notes were affirmative of my research and writing skills.

The Positive

It is funny to consider that when we talk about the negativity bias, we seem to still be focused on the negative. Even this article, which aims to have a positive impact on who ever may read this, focuses on negativity. But, the first step to improving something is awareness. Knowing of this bias is the first step to overcoming it.

With this awareness, we can then begin to positively change our focus. We can recognize that our minds’ won’t always immediately see the good. We can take a moment to truly see the reality and determine the scale of the negative and the positive.

We can check our minds’ bias. We can see that life isn’t perfect, but it isn’t always as bad as we initially think. We may just be missing all the good around us!