The negativity bias refers to the human tendency to think about what was wrong, instead of thinking about what was good. Therefore, our pleasant and positive memories are overcome by silly unpleasant confrontations. The value we place on everything negative is what we will talk about today.
Having a negative tendency explains why traumatic events and negative experiences linger longer and seem to affect us more than positive ones. It seems that these more or less unpleasant experiences tend to become more intense in our minds. Let’s go deeper into it.
The evolutionary basis of the negativity bias
In many cases, bad news has far more influence than good news. And even simple criticism can do us much more than compliments.
In the book Buddha’s Brain (link in English), neuroscientist Rick Hanson makes a statement, supported by many other researchers, about the origin of the evolutionary nature of this negativity bias.
According to Hanson , negativity bias is a result of the evolution that taught our ancestors to make intelligent decisions in risky situations. These kinds of decisions helped them survive long enough to guarantee the next generation. It was all a matter of life or death.
Thus, individuals who lived in harmony with potentially dangerous events had a greater chance of survival. Over time, the brain structure adapted very slowly to pay more attention to negative information than positive information.
Several studies seem to agree that negativity bias develops in early childhood. It is around the first year that babies’ attention shifts from positive facial expressions and focuses more on negative stimuli.
Studies have been conducted by psychologist John Cacioppo on the neural processing of negativity bias. They found that the brain’s response to sensory, cognitive and negative motor stimuli causes much greater activation than positive events, especially in the cerebral cortex.
As a result of the above, negativity bias promotes and influences us to focus on the negative around us. This is true even when making decisions.
It also seems to have a major impact on the motivation with which we complete a task. Interestingly, we are more motivated to avoid a negative experience than by a task that will be a positive stimulus.
The evolutionary approach suggests that this is just a tendency we were aiming for. It is about avoiding damage caused by negative situations. It also suggests that it’s just a way our brain tries to keep us safe and protected.
How does negativity bias affect our lives?
It seems that the negativity bias has helped people survive. However, the truth is that it has quite undesirable effects in our daily lives. In any case, we should be aware of it.
This bias influences our decision-making and the risks we are willing to take. It also seems to have a huge impact on the way we see other people. It could lead us to think and expect the worst from others in our intimate relationships.
We believe fake news when it’s negative
The negativity bias has consequences as different as those that make us more likely to give more credibility to negative news than positive news. This kind of news not only attracts us more, but we also give it more validity. We do this even though such news may be fake.
It also influences our values and ideologies. It also seems to have a lot to do with our tendency to cling to tradition and security despite ambiguous incentives and changes that we perceive as threatening.
As you can see, in most situations it is better to think about your tendency towards negative bias. Just be aware of its presence, especially if you want to make better decisions.