FYI: Negativity Bias

Negativity Bias is a tendency to notice, pay more attention, or give more weight to negative experiences or information over positive.

Does this sound like you? When you pay more attention to negative information in all its many forms, you’re setting the stage for pessimistic thinking. Since your thinking affects your behavior, you may feel like a storm cloud is always following you around.

Negativity Bias Example No. 1

At parent-teacher conferences, your child’s teacher has made several glowing comments about your son, but also mentions that he talks too much and can be disruptive at times. And though she said that they’ve been working on it and that he’s getting better, the only thing you heard was that your son is being disruptive in the classroom. There was only one negative comment about your son yet there were several wonderful comments, including, “he’s a pleasure to have in my class.” When you get home, you announce that your son is grounded until his behavior improves.

Negativity Bias Example No. 2

Your spouse is looking for a new coffee maker online. When he finds a great candidate, he sends you a link in an email and tells you to check it out when you have time. So you open the link and notice that it’s a highly-rated coffee maker, then you read some reviews. Out of 326 reviews, only 31 were rated at 1 star with the majority being rated at 4 or 5 stars. Later, your spouse asks if you liked the coffee maker.

“Not really. Half the reviews talked about it not working right out of the box. And everybody complained about the knobs being cheap. Let’s keep looking.”

Instead of noticing the overwhelming number of positive reviews, you focus on a few negative ones and blow them out of proportion by claiming that “half” the reviews were negative and that “everybody complained…”

Strategy:

Be careful not to over-emphasize the negative information you encounter. Consider the source of the information–is it a direct source or is it second- or third-hand? When in doubt, double-check the information against other sources. Get other opinions. Consider both the negative and the positive equally. If you notice the negative side of an experience, try to also look for some positives. Learn to give equal weight to the positive and keep an open mind about future related information that may support an opposing point of view and don’t automatically disregard it. A little critical reasoning goes a long way.

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