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The Negativity Of Bias

The Negativity Of Bias
August 09
20:23 2019

By: Dr. Abigail Joseph –

We live in a technological world where news travels as fast as the speed of light. I’d quote you the actual figure, but in doing so I would stir the negativity bias in you and we would begin to focus on who is more accurate, rather than the intention and meaning behind the statement. Indeed news travels fast. What is intriguing about it though, is the fact that ONLY negative news travels at turbo speed. Good news travels too, but for some odd reason we don’t gravitate to it the same way and we don’t feel as compelled to share it as we do with negative news. Negativity is like a hot potato that must be passed on, it would seem.

We see this compulsion in everyday life. We receive a video of someone butchered or see their mangled body in an accident and automatically press forward and send it to all the people you think would get a kick out of watching it. There is no regard for the sentiments of relatives, loved ones, close friends or even using the discretion of the age of viewers when we forward or post things. To us it doesn’t really matter. The point is that negativity will get ‘likes,’ will get shared and you will get recognized for doing so.

I’m sure the purpose of Belize Business Review was to promote businesses and help to get local businesses recognized; we’ve managed to taint it and turn it into a page where we blast people, slander and bash businesses. It is so much easier to tear down than build up, so we feel it is ok to do so. If we place a positive note, maybe you’d get 15 likes and ONE share, BUT if your blast them you are bound to get close to 500 likes and over a 100 shares. It’s the way of the world. It’s all about the likes. We trail likes on social media, because it fills our self-esteem bank, and gives us a feeling of false importance. But, enough of that. Social media is not the only place where negativity thrives. Negativity is innate. We see it in everyday life.

Interestingly, our brain records negativity at an alarming rate. The negativity bias is our brain’s tendency to register negative stimuli with ease and dwell on it with a strong affinity. This psychological phenomenon is the reason why rebuke and criticism stays with us and stings longer than the feeling of joy and praise. This negative focus is the reason why forgiveness is difficult, why bad first impressions are so hard to forget, why trauma has such lingering effects and also why we have such vivid memories of bad events and have difficulty holding on to the good memories – or why one person who cut in the grocery line or cut you off in traffic is able to ruin the remainder of your day! Imagine that, one event that had a duration of maybe 3 minutes tops, out of a 24 hour day – unbelievable right?…. It’s called the negativity bias.

Researchers have studied human behavior to decipher the reason for this and have found out that we pay more attention to negative events and tend to learn more from the negative experiences and outcomes (most of us anyhow). The study revealed that the negativity bias affected many aspects of our lives. For example, it plays a role in motivation: people are less motivated when the incentive is gaining something, but are more motivated when the incentive is to avoid a loss. This can be seen from childhood where we are rewarded for cleaning our room vs. getting a spanking if it isn’t clean by the time mom inspects. The job will get done but the speed and motivation are different. A child would delay and the minute the threat happens, action is produced and the room gets cleaned in a millisecond. Studies also show that since negativity attracts more attention, even the news we relay is perceived as unquestionable truth if it is negative in comparison to it being positive. For example, If I invent a story about your spouse cheating, you might pretend to not care or believe me in that moment as a facade and to protect your feelings, but best believe you will take it up with him or her later on, or if not you may begin to watch their behavior, movements. All of a sudden you are monitoring how much time he or she spends on their phone and having a password might become an issue. See, you begin to notice things and are bothered now by things you used to overlook.

This tendency of being attracted to negativity is very likely as a result of evolution. It has been observed in the earlier timeline of human history, that mankind focused deeply and paid keen attention to the dangers and threats of the world as a survival technique. The humans that focused on and looked for these signs were more likely to avoid danger, and to survive. Therefore, this perspective then suggests that our tendency to dwell and fixate on negativity is a survival mechanism inherited from our ancestors. A way that our brain tries to keep us safe.

Psychologist Cacioppo studied human behavior by showing pictures to participants that were positive, negative and neutral. He then observed the electrical activity of the brain in response to these images. It was observed that the negative images produced a much stronger response in the cerebral cortex of the brain than the neutral and positive images. He then concluded that due to the surge of activity in the critical information processing area of the brain, our behaviors and attitudes tend to be tailored powerfully by bad news, information and experiences.

Despite the fact that we no longer need to be on constant alert for survival, the negativity bias still plays a role in how our brain operates. We see it in the way we go about our relationships, our decision making and also in the way we perceive others. However, while the negativity bias seems to be part of us, we need to start using it for what it is…a survival tool.

Stopping the negativity bias takes a conscious effort. It means recognizing the fact that it has surpassed its purpose and weeded itself into our everyday functions. If you find that you fixate a lot on negative things, or get easily thrown off your game due to negative comments passed, it will take practice to stop yourself in the moment and reroute. Don’t allow a couple minutes to ruin your day or affect the remainder of your lifetime. It does not take much for the negativity bias of others to influence our behavior, but taking the mindful approach that the negativity bias is but a tool and a primitive defense mechanism, it allows us to be understanding but also to take a stand and reroute our response to their negative stimuli. It takes effort, but it is possible. The physical and emotional destruction of the world due to the negativity bias can only be saved through the renewing of our minds.

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