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Negativity Bias

What Is Negativity Bias?

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The Quick Answer

In Critical Thinking, negativity bias is rating negatives more than positives.
Negativity bias refers to the psychological phenomenon in which negative events, experiences, or information have a greater impact on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours compared to positive ones. It suggests that humans tend to give more weight and attention to negative stimuli or events, and they are more likely to be influenced by negative information.

Here's a short example to illustrate negativity bias:
Imagine receiving a performance review at work. The review consists of both positive feedback about your accomplishments and areas for improvement. Despite receiving several positive comments, you find yourself dwelling more on the constructive criticism and negative feedback. These negative aspects may overshadow the positive aspects of the review, leading to feelings of disappointment or frustration.
Negativity bias can also be observed in various aspects of daily life. For instance, in the media, negative news tends to grab more attention and generate stronger emotional reactions compared to positive news. Similarly, in social interactions, one critical comment or negative encounter may have a more lasting impact on our mood than several positive interactions.

This bias has evolutionary roots, as it helped our ancestors survive in dangerous and challenging environments by being hypersensitive to potential threats or risks. However, in modern society, this bias can sometimes lead to a distorted perception of reality, heightened stress levels, and a tendency to overlook positive aspects of situations or experiences.

Being aware of negativity bias can help individuals consciously counterbalance it by actively seeking out positive experiences, practising gratitude, and re-framing negative events or thoughts in a more positive light.

What is negativity bias?

Easy Definition of Negativity Bias

Don't think bad things are disastrous. If you don't keep them in perspective, you're showing negativity bias.

Academic Definition of Negativity Bias

Negativity bias is giving more weight to negative experiences or information than to positive ones.

An Example of Negativity Bias

Good plus bad equals bad

negativity bias icecream Negativity bias affects all sorts of situations. If you experience something good and something bad at approximately the same time — e.g. someone gives you an underground ticket worth £3 and you drop your ice-cream worth £3, you are likely to feel bad, not neutral. This is not about your love of ice cream...or underground tickets. It's all about negative events being more powerful.

So, using the same example, you would feel bad and not neutral even if the events were reversed; i.e., someone gave you an ice-cream and you lost your underground ticket.


Interestingly, studies show that negativity bias reduces as people get older. The reasons for this are unknown, but I suspect it's linked to these ideas:
"Worrying works! 90% of the things I worry about never happen."

"If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about a year ago."
Put simply, people realise over time that they've been giving too much emphasis to negative events. Also, being more self-aware, older people tend to accept criticism more readily.

A Practical Application of Negativity Bias

Curb those negative comments

negativity bias business This page on agreeing, thanking and praising to exert influence, outlines the need to tread carefully when trying to influence. It discusses not slating your target's ideas but thanking him, praising him or agreeing with him, before influencing him.

This idea is linked to negativity bias. If you throw in one overtly negative point about your target, it is likely to have far more impact than you intended, and his defences might firm up. It is often said that negative comments are seven times more powerful than positive ones. Whether that's accurate or not, it does offer a warning to be careful about how often you make negative comments and how you word them.

In summary, be mindful of the extra "hidden" power that negative comments wield.

Summary of Negativity Bias

If you think someone has been overly influenced by something simply because it was negative, tell them they are suffering from negativity bias.

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