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Negativity Bias: What It Is and How It Affects You

Posted by Bryan Potok, CPO on

Have you ever gone through your day feeling good about multiple compliments or an accomplishment at work only for those feel-good emotions to be busted by a single criticism? This is an example of negativity bias at work.

 How negativity bias affects your emotions and ways to overcome it.

So, what is negativity bias? And why does it strongly impact your emotions?

What is negativity bias?

Negativity bias refers to the tendency for humans to pay more attention or give more weight to negative experiences over positive or neutral experiences.

How it affects you

Numerous psychologists and researchers tested negativity bias. In behavioral economics, negativity bias shows itself when you choose options that might result in loss. According to an article by the Nielsen Norman Group, people avoid losses because the pain of losing is more significant than the satisfaction of an equivalent gain. For example, losing $100 is going to weigh more heavily on you than gaining $100.

In social psychology, negativity bias shows its power best during elections. A study found that voters are more likely to cast their vote for a candidate based on negative information about an opponent. Perceived negative traits overshadow a candidate's merits.

Why we have it

According to research, negativity bias starts to emerge in infancy. Infants tend to pay attention to positive facial expressions and tone of voice. However, as the infant turns one, brain studies indicate that babies begin to experience brain responses to negative stimuli. Another study found that infants as young as three-months-old show signs of negativity bias.

Psychologist Rick Hanson suggests that we have evolved to develop negativity bias due to millions of years of dealing with threats. For our ancestors, the ability to detect a threat in the surroundings (i.e., a predatory animal) guarantees survival more than finding food. However, this negative trait has been passed on to us today.

Overcoming negativity bias 

Modern civilization paved the way for minimized threats, but our built-in negativity bias still affects our decision-making. While there's nothing wrong with being cautious, uncontrolled negativity bias can work against our success. 

For example, experiencing a temporary setback during your amputee training sessions has the power to affect your outlook on your amputee journey. In this case, leaning too much into your negative bias will affect your progress.

The good news is that we can override it. You can do so by practicing mindfulness and being able to tell which aspects matter to you and which ones don't. Another technique is to allow yourself to bask in your successes and positive experiences by celebrating milestones.

Have you noticed negativity bias at work in your life? How do you deal with it? Please share your tips with the rest of the community in the comments section below.
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  • I, most definitely notice a negative bias at work in my life today…and yesterday and the day before and the day before that too! Its a part of me no doubt. However when I expose it, tell on it like I am doing right now, it loses its power. Not all at once mind you, my negative thinking spilled over from my amputation to every area of my life and it wants all the attention. However, when I stop feeding it and start allowing the positive things (yes there is positive things in every second of life) come to my attention or take front row, the negative will start to leave. Just by simply writing down my thoughts on paper where I can see how irrational I am thinking is big help. Like I am doing here.
    Thank you much!
    Jerry – Traumatic B/K amp since 1979

    Jerry L Bowers on

  • I must be wired wrong or something.

    I’ve never understood worrying or obsessing about the negative side of things. No matter how bad things have been, and there have been times in my life when I was growing up that things were dismal at best, not to mention failures and rejections in adult life, I’ve always managed to remain positive. I’m 71, widowed, live alone, have one leg, and cancer, yet my life is full and happy.

    What is wrong with me?


  • Mindfulness is nonsense. Recognize your negativity is your own. It is your response. If you can recognize you are feeling negative, you must spin it into a positive. It’s all relative. If you cannot spin it into a positive, you must accept it as a challenge to be overcome. If you can challenge it, you can overcome it, and when you overcome it, you will see it as a positive.

    D Rant on

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