The Negativity Bias

Are you biased?

All of us are in some way or another. Even if we try our best to be non-judgemental and objective, each of us has ingrained preferences and insecurities. We all have a complex history of experiences and indoctrination which have contributed to the tangled web of opinions and inclinations that color our thoughts and influence our actions.

But neurologists and psychologists have established that our psyches go far deeper than our own individual experiences.

Many of our mental processes are innate, or at least attributable to an evolutionary process that has spanned millennia.

One of the inherent attitudes that we have inherited from our ancestors is what has come to be known as the “Negativity Bias.” Dr. Rick Hanson explains that our brain “is constantly looking for bad news. As soon as it finds some, it fixates on it with tunnel vision, fast-tracks it into memory storage, and then reactivates it and the very least hint of anything even vaguely similar.”

This instinct, Hanson says, has evolutionary value. Humankind has historically existed in dangerous and antagonistic environments where predators and unpredictable elements have forced us to be constantly vigilant and on-guard in order to survive.

Good news, Hanson continues, “gets a kind of neural shrug, ‘uh, whatever.’ In effect the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

The question, of course, is how this Negativity Bias is affecting us in the modern age when physical threats have diminished. One might think that our emotional well-being would have flourished as our security and creature comforts have increased. Yet there is clear evidence of the contrary. Divorce rates are the highest they’ve ever been, drug abuse is epidemic and depression is wide-spread, political and social tension has risen to perilous levels both domestically and globally. Which all leads us to the question of whether our Negativity Bias has outlasted its evolutionary relevance and benefit.

Is it possible that we are continuing to seek and emphasize the negative – bad news, painful emotions, dysfunctional relations – even as our world is providing ever more opportunity for growth, progress, and collaboration?

Experts like Hanson suggest that we pay more attention to our Negativity Bias in order to free ourselves from its control. Perhaps it is time to develop and nurture a Positivity Bias in order to avoid a more modern and existential threat, the danger of us tearing each other apart.

Click here or on the image above to read Dr. Rick Hanson’s article “Confronting the Negativity Bias.”

Marc Erlbaum, Contributor

Photo Credit: Hernan Sanchez

© Copyright 2018 by Common Party. All rights reserved.


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