Negativity Bias

What Is It?

The negativity bias is our tendency to naturally pay attention to and dwell on the negative more than the positive.

This is a cognitive trait linked to our survival needs – it was once better to assume that the shadow moving outside the cave was a threat not a friend. It could be the difference between life and death.

This predisposition to assuming the worst and giving more weight to the negative still affects our daily lives.

When it comes to comments, feedback, experiences, interactions – chances are we’ll remember and be impacted by negatives ones, more so than positive ones.

Negativity Bias in Action

  • When you have an appraisal at work, your boss might offer you five glowing comments recognising your expertise and hard work and identify one aspect as a weakness/area to improve on. Which comment are you going to leave the room thinking about? Criticism often has a greater impact than a compliment.
  • After an argument with someone you care about you’re likely to fixate on their flaws and remember previous times they’ve upset you. Their positive characteristics and all the good times you’ve had don’t seem as significant.

The negativity bias is also heavily reflected in and perpetuated by the media. Bad news sells and we pay attention to it.

Our negativity bias impacts on our well-being – influencing our emotions, judgement and decision making. As we no longer have to worry about those shadows moving outside our caves, it’s not always a logical or desirable approach.

Not only does it reduce the impact of positive experiences and interactions with people in our lives, it can also impede our personal goals. Assuming the worst and doubting our abilities may lead to us being closed to new challenges.

Changing Our Outlook

Developing our confidence, changing the way we interpret situations, becoming more aware of and savouring positive moments are all ways to help reduce our predisposition to negative thinking.

Positive psychology challenges our negativity bias and provides us with information and tools to change our outlook and behaviour. It encourages us to have a more balanced perspective and become more aware of and open to the positive.

Many things contribute to a happier, more meaningful life – being aware of our negativity bias and actively choosing to challenge it is one way to start.

Thanks for reading!

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