Our negativity bias.

Why does bad stuff seem more memorable?

You know that moment when you’re minding your business, walking down the road and you come across an acquaintance, only to get a not-so-nice comment from them which totally ruins your day? Even weirder is the fact that you’d approved of your look just 10minutes ago. And your sister approved of it. And she *never* approves of anything.

So what happened? Why do we internalise negativity way more than positive things? Why does 1 bad comment spoil our mood even though we got 99 good ones? Is it ego? Pride? A subconscious need for total & utter world domination?

Yet even if you think you’re above it,

Welcome to the World of Human Cognitive Biases.

What’s the big idea?

The Negativity Bias is basically the tendency for humans to pay more attention, or give more weight to negative experiences over neutral or positive experiences. Otherwise known as positive-negative asymmetry.

As negative as this all sounds, it started off with a very valid reason - threats.

Managing (and hopefully, simply avoiding) danger is vital to the survival of man.

You see, it’s easier to sieve through facts and information, looking out only for the negatives. It’s how we might decide to not visit a place with a high crime rate even though the sunset view by the bay is “one-of-a-kind”. And this is useful, especially for physical events. But what about emotionally? Well. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

In case you missed last week’s letter on How We Reason as Humans, click here.

Alarms-a-ringin’ 

An almond-shaped region of the brain has been found to be closely related to this phenomenon. Sometimes known as the “alarm centre” of the brain, the amygdala plays a role in processing negative stimuli faster than the positive and neutral. This is because the latter are of no immediate threat.

However, there is no distinction whether it be physical, spiritual, psychological or otherwise. And so what helps keep us away from making bad decisions based on negative data can also help us sink into a bad mood following some negative data.

This shows up in our simple everyday lives such as our acceptance of the news. Ever notice how bad news sells? And tends to be shared the more on those tiring WhatsApp BCs? You know the one(s). Yeah. Yikes.

How do we overcome this?

How can we rise above a bias so ingrained in our human DNA? Turns out all hope isn’t lost.

“While people do automatically attend to negative stimuli, given the proper ability and motivation, they can show the same sensitivity to positive stimuli.” - Research

And so, the first step is to even be aware of this bias. Which you are now. You’re welcome. Just another day trying to save liv—

“You can prevent or stop an amygdala hijack by breathing, slowing down, and trying to focus your thoughts. This allows your frontal cortex to regain control.”

Basically, Remember, Remember. Try to remember the bias is the one at play here and find a balance to smoothen out the actual facts of the situation.

For example, I guess just because the ending of a movie sucked doesn’t mean it all entirely sucked. Yes, Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you.