Yes! Negativity is as old as mankind is. Being negative comes naturally.
In fact English Dictionary is around 60% negative words, 2/3 of Brain wiring is to watch out for the dangers. Millions of years of evolution, we still carry this trait; we are more sensitive to danger than to pleasures.
Accepting Negativity Bias for a better life
Suppose someone cut you in traffic and you had an argument with that driver. You will remember this incident till the time you go to bed or maybe even the subsequent day. Now, assume someone in office appreciated you for the choice of your shirt. You will most likely forget this compliment after a while.
Why is it that we remember more of unfortunate things and less of positive things? Isn’t it strange?
History of Negativity Bias
Negativity is as old as mankind is. Our ancestors, who lived in the forest, had to make sure that they stay away from danger every moment. The danger could have been inclement weather or wild animals; but they definitely posed a threat to their lives in the forest. Millions of years of evolution, we still carry this trait are more sensitive to danger than to pleasures.
The Science behind Negative Bias
The brain processes negative and positive information in two different hemispheres, with the right hemisphere concentrating more on emotions including negative experiences. According to Prof. Clifford Nass of the Stanford University, negative emotions involve more thinking and are more scrupulously processed. As a result, we tend to think more strongly about the unfortunate events.
And there is one more reason why a negative experience gets precedence over a good one. A negative experience gets imprinted in long-term memory at a go. On the contrary, we need to be aware of a positive experience for 12 seconds before it makes its way from short term to long-term memory.
John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago explored the relationship between various images and electrical activity on cerebral cortex in brain. The participants were shown the following:
- A Ferrari for a positive image
- A hair drier for a neutral image
- A mutilated face for a negative image.
Cacioppo found out that the brain reacted more strongly to the negative image. In other words, the brain had greater electrical activity when exposed to a negative image.
Not an adult’s habit, by any means
Is the veering towards negativity only the forte of the adults? If scientists are to be believed, even infants have a negative bias. J Kiley Hamlin of the University of British Columbia, after her study, found out that even three-month-old infants have their share of negativity biases.
Prevalence of Negative Bias
If you are shown a dozen positive things and a single negative one, your mind will naturally veer towards the negative first. And this bias cuts across geographical and other man made boundaries.
A multinational company asked its customers to share their experiences through social media. Even though only 2% of the responses were negative, all the attention was focused on them.
After a study of 238 professionals, Teresa Amabile of the Harvard University found out that the impact of a setback at work on happiness is more than twice the impact of a positive event on happiness.
Even language has a distinct liking towards the negative. Robert Schrauf of the Pennsylvania State University found out that more than half of the working vocabulary of people to express emotions is negative.
Blurb: According to Prof. Nass, we tend to feel those who say negative things as smarter than those who talk positive.
Importance of a Negative Bias
Being Negative isn’t that Negative. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Derek Isaacowitz found out that when faced with an unfortunate life event, pessimists are less prone to depression. The pessimists would already have spent a considerable amount of time getting ready for the unpleasant situation.
Psychologists Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia along with psychologists Ed Diener and Richard Lucas, after their study in 2007, found out that moderately happy people have an upper hand in terms of financial and educational success when compared to extremely happy people.
Blurb: According to John Gottman, a psychologist and foremost researcher on marital stability, the number of positive interactions between married couples should be five times more than the negative interactions for a stable marriage.
Following are the other benefits of a negative bias:
1. Makes us avoid rash decisions: A negative bias ensures we are aware of the dangers and pitfalls while taking decisions. For instance, a negative bias ensures that we don’t respond to e-mails offering ponzy schemes. Similarly, a fear of failure makes a student study well.
2. Essential for profitability of an enterprise: A negative outlook ensures that managers think of the pros and cons before taking any decision. An overtly positive outlook could even spell disaster for the financial health of an organization.
3. Ensures our survival: A negative bias ensures we stay out of danger. It makes us think twice before we do something risky.
People should be offered constructive criticism rather than unproductive ones. This is because the brain strongly and quickly digests the negative aspect rather than the positive ones.
How to accept your Negative Bias
First of all, realise that being positive is not the absence of negativity. The key in our life is to develop realistic positivity, i.e., having a blend of optimism along with being aware of possible threats. How can you develop realistic positivity?
Try doing this exercise once in a week or more frequently, if you wish so.
- Find a quiet room in your house, where you will not be easily disturbed.
- Ensure you will not be disturbed by phone calls and text messages.
- Use the following worksheet to evaluate your emotions.
|Situation||Your negative emotions and thoughts||
- Jot down the situation that led to your negative thinking. Describe the situation in detail.
- Then, take a short break and come back for the session.
- Now, evaluate your negative emotions. Find out whether those negative emotions actually helped you in overcoming any dangerous situation.
- Analyse whether the negative emotions which you get frequently aids you in the long run.
This analysis of emotions helps us to channelise our negative emotions for our own happiness and wellbeing. Moreover, it helps guard us from stress and anxiety, which usually tail these negative emotions.
There is a definite positive in being negative. So, accept yourself for all your negative traits, analyse them, and in turn, develop realistic positivity to get the best out of your life.