Do you ever find yourself dwelling on something negative that happened a few days ago, even though most other aspects of your week were really positive? Turn on the news and you will see overwhelming negative content dominating TV, print, and online media. Why? Because negative news coverage grabs more attention (viewers) than positive content. Again, why? It’s not necessarily enjoyable to read about the hardships of the world.
Media Producers, psychologists and a growing number of researchers have learned that humans come pre-wired to be drawn to the negative. The fact that our brain registers, focuses upon, stores, and remembers negative information much more readily than positive events, is known as Negativity Bias.
Research gathered from the VeryWell Mind Institute has demonstrated that humans:
- Remember traumatic experiences better than positive ones.
- Recall insults better than praise.
- Respond more strongly to negative events than to equally positive ones.
- Think about negative things more frequently than positive ones.
- Make decisions based on negative information more than positive data.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference (in person!) in Germany. It was a great learning opportunity across the board, but one comment in particular resonated with me, so I decided to dig a little deeper into what he said. Graeme Scott said something along these lines in his presentation, “Our brains are wired to be negative because their sole purpose is to keep us alive.”
Our brains have been hardwired through evolution to identify threats in order to avoid danger and increase survival. Our early ancestors who were more attuned to danger and paid more attention to the bad things around them stayed alive longer and passed on their genes more successfully, resulting in a genetic makeup in today’s population that is wired to focus on the negative. Fortunately, we no longer have to fear the Saber-Tooth tiger or eating poisonous berries, but our brains have not evolved in the same way that technology has. This evolutionary perspective suggests that our tendency to dwell on the negative is simply a function of our brain trying to keep us alive.
So what can we do to overcome Negativity Bias?
- Become more aware of your Thinking Patterns
- Awareness is always the first step – start paying attention to the thoughts that drive your mind.
- In my work, I use a lot of Cognitive Behavioral Theory to guide my practice. A central tenet of CBT is the idea that our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings in turn drive our behaviors, and our behaviors then reinforce our thoughts. The cycle goes round and round. If we are hardwired to focus our thoughts and attention on the negative, we can easily see how this can adversely drive our thinking-feeling-doing patterns.
- Re-frame the Situation
- Our self-talk influences how we interpret events and experiences. When we find ourselves interpreting a situation negatively, or focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation, try to reframe the situation in a more positive light.
- Find the Silver Linings!
- Savor the Positive
- Because it often takes more to remember the positive moments, we need to be intentional. When something awesome is happening, savor it for a little bit longer than you normally would. This experience and the mental images you create will help with the imbalance we experience with Negativity Bias.
- Write it down – Make a list – Talk about it at Dinner – Do something to focus on the positive things that happen.
- As with everything, Breathe Mindfully 🙂