Breaking the Cycle: Understanding and Challenging the Negativity Bias

Negativity bias refers to the phenomenon where negative events or information have a greater impact on an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior than neutral or positive events. Negative experiences feel like they are seared into our memory while the positive ones don’t seem to stick around/

This bias is thought to have evolved as a survival mechanism, as it helped our ancestors to quickly detect and respond to potential threats. However, in modern times, the negativity bias can lead to an overly pessimistic outlook on life and can contribute to the development of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Focusing on the negative can create stress and lead to health issues as well, including both insomnia and chronic pain.

Everyday Examples

For example, if someone received 10 positive comments on a presentation they gave at work, but one negative comment sticks in their mind and they dwell on it for days. They might even ignore the positive comments and fixate only on the negative one.

Another example of negativity bias is if you go on vacation and have a great time. But one small negative event happened, like your flight on the way home was delayed. If you remember and talk more about the delay than the rest of the vacation, this is the negativity bias.

This bias can have a significant effect on the news because negative events or information tend to be more attention-grabbing and memorable, they are often given more coverage. This can lead to an overrepresentation of negative stories, such as crime, accidents, and disasters, and an underrepresentation of positive stories, such as community achievements and positive developments. As a result, the audience may develop a more negative outlook on life and may become more anxious and fearful.

Negativity and Mental Health

The negativity bias can have a significant impact on mental health. When individuals are exposed to a constant stream of negative information and experiences, it can lead an increase in stress and anxiety. This can put the brain in a heightened state, increasing the amount of stress hormones your brain releases.

And focusing on the negative can become a habit over time and can lead to an increase in anxiety. If you are focusing more on potential negative outcomes or threats, rather than positive possibilities, you are likely to live in a greater state of fear. This can exacerbate feelings of worry and unease and make it harder for the individual to control their anxiety. Additionally, negative events or thoughts may trigger anxious responses and make it difficult for the individual to calm down.

It’s important to note that, while some level of negativity bias is normal, when it starts to affect an individual’s life in a negative way, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. A therapist or counselor can help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts, as well as develop coping strategies to improve overall well-being.

What Can You Do to Overcome Negativity

There are a few strategies that can help individuals overcome negativity bias.

  • Be aware of the negativity bias. Know that your brain focuses on the negative to protect you. Once you are aware of this, you can recognize this and know it’s just your brain trying to protect you.
  • Lean into the good. Keep a gratitude journal or make a habit of regularly reflecting on things that went well in your day, your week, or your life in general. Even if it’s brief, re-directing your attention onto at least one good thing can help shift your focus away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Spend time with people who have a positive outlook on life and who will support and encourage you.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, and can make it easier to recognize and challenge negative thoughts.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. When negative thoughts arise, take a moment to examine them critically. Are they based on facts or assumptions? Are they helpful or harmful? Try to reframe them in a more positive light.
  • Get professional help. If you find that negativity bias is affecting your life in a negative way and you can’t overcome it, seeking professional help may be a good idea. A therapist or counselor can help you identify the underlying causes of your negative thoughts and help you develop strategies to overcome them.