Negativity bias is a fancy term to explain the fact that we humans pay more attention to negative feelings or information than positive ones.  In the TED* work we are often reminded that our human default way of being is to respond to problems, which will keep the drama alive if we are not aware of this powerful negativity bias.

It makes sense that we humans think in negative terms.  This trait has developed over time to protect us and our brains have been trained to look for threats or disruptive patterns to alert us to danger.  Psychologists have definitive research that proves this trait.

One famous study asked people to view pictures that typically arouse positive feelings, negative feelings, and neutral feelings.  Participant’s electrical brain activity was recorded while viewing the pictures and their brain’s activity was stronger when negative pictures were viewed.

Healthy skepticism and planning ahead is different than a bias for negativity that can overcome our creativity if we are not aware of its power.  If we are unconsciously scanning the horizon for negativity, we will go through our day on-guard for the drama and dance around the Drama Triangle, playing the roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer.

The tendency of negative thoughts and feelings to be stronger than good ones impacts almost every aspect of life. Here are a few more examples of how research has demonstrated the negativity bias:

  • People are more upset about losing money than they are pleased about gaining money.
  • Workers rated their day as good if there was even a slight step forward on a project.  However, an equally minor setback was twice as intense as the positive experience in its impact.
  • Couples must engage in five times as many positive experiences to overcome one negative experience.
  • It takes 12 seconds longer to store a positive event in the brain than a negative event. Researchers also found that recall of the unpleasant memory was faster than recall of the positive memory.

When we accept our negativity bias as a natural human trait, we can stop judging or fighting our negative thoughts.  Once we do that, the drama begins to decrease and we can take the time to be fully present, and simply become more curious about the situation as it really is.