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How to Fight Negativity Bias

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

Have you ever noticed how one piece of criticism can overpower a multitude of positive reviews? Do you dwell on the one negative comment in a performance review, and ignore the surrounding pieces of praise? Do memories of times you were scared, angry, or hurt come to mind easily? Can you recall the most negative news headline of the week, but struggle to remember a positive story? (The last one may be especially true right now!)

This is Negativity Bias: “The notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, social interactions, or traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.”

It affects all of us! Think of the ongoing case of the coronavirus. It has caused a global panic – financial markets plunging, borders closing, businesses shutting down, grocery store shelves running empty, and news headlines daily. People are ignoring the facts – that as an otherwise healthy, non-elderly adult, your likelihood of dying from COVID-19 is less than your chance of drowning or being struck by lightning – and have succumbed to negativity bias.

On our blog, we’ve discussed other psychological biases and events – such as the Serial Position Effect and Recency Effect – that frequently impact our daily lives. The importance of being aware of each is the same: We must know how to harness the power of these innate processes.

When it comes to negativity bias, the best countermeasure is to fight it!

First, start your day on a positive foot by avoiding the negative headlines that dominate our news cycles. After all, negative news sells! Instead, opt for an outlet that has a “positive news” category; See this blog for some examples!

Second, when you encounter any negative or hurtful feedback, take a step back from the situation. Think about the positive feedback you also received (it’s hardly ever all negative!), and how you can learn from the criticism to make it constructive!

And finally, practice gratefulness! Gratitude is one of the emotions most closely tied to happiness, and it can be actively practiced. Start each morning and end each night by thinking of the positives and things you are grateful for throughout the day. Negativity bias will have no room to fit into a grateful mind!

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