We Need To Fight Off Our Negativity Bias

Yellow Wall Brown UmbrellaNod your head if you know someone that is overly negative…

There seems to be a lot of negative in the world today. But maybe that’s just me being negative…

Anyway, our brains are apparently wired to focus on the negative. It’s been studied. Many times.

In one study, researchers showed both positive and negative images to people. Those people tended to remember the negative images much more often than the positive images. That was even the case when the researchers showed the people many more positive images than negative.

And even when they showed more negative images, people still recalled more details about the negative images.

One reason for this, that seems to make sense, is that our ancestors needed the ability to spot the negative in order to stay alive. They had to think like prey because danger was around every corner. If they made one wrong move they could die.

I think about it when I’m hunting in the woods. When I’m hunting for a deer, for example, I notice that I think like a hunter while the deer think like prey. And the deer usually win. In fact, they win a lot. Sometimes a deer will jump and run away at seemingly nothing. Maybe a small whiff of some unfamiliar smell or maybe at the sight of something unusual in their neck of the woods.

Deer are prey. They have to avoid many predators. They still benefit from negativity bias.

Modern humans on the other hand, aren’t really prey in the traditional sense of the word. There aren’t too many saber-toothed tigers around the corners waiting to pounce and kill us.

But our brains are still wired to act like prey. We watch for the negative in everything.

In the world today, one of the main issues is content. The news. Social media. Conversation with friends and family. Content creators, through no fault of their own really, know that when they create things that are negative that they will earn attention.

Nobody will watch the news if it’s all good. Nobody will use social media if it’s all positive. We crave the negative. We unconsciously crave it because our ancestors needed to be able to spot the negative in order to survive.

But today there is more information than ever. We have to build the self discipline to avoid it so that we don’t drive ourselves crazy.

Back to the deer example. They don’t live their lives in the fight or flight state at all times. They are able to be happy most of the time. They’re browsing on plants. They’re sleeping. But when something is out of place they switch into stress mode and escape. Then they go back to their normal routines.

Modern humans, though, are in stress mode a lot of the time. It’s because we have unlimited access to negative information.

If you’re feeling stress, the responsibility is on you to discipline yourself to weed out negative information. It’s not helpful in modern society. In fact, scientists found that there is a magic ratio to strive for.

It’s 5:1.

We need frequent positive information to live in balance. Five positive moments for every negative.

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