What Is Negativity Bias?

Do you often fixate on a negative piece of feedback?
Perhaps you can’t stop beating yourself up about a mistake you made.
Maybe you tend to expect the worst-case scenario to happen.

If yes, you are not alone. All humans have this tendency to pay more attention to the negative aspects of reality rather than the positive because of something called negativity bias. This phenomenon, hard-wired in our brains in the process of evolution, elicits a high response in the cerebral cortex when something remotely negative happens. In theory, it’s supposed to be an alarm, notifying us of any dangers or threats nearby. In the past, it helped our ancestors survive – those, who successfully managed to escape wild animals, avoid poisonous plants, floods, or fires, lived thanks to negativity bias. However, centuries later, we don’t face the same life-threatening situations as cavemen. Yet, our bias gets activated daily, skewing our perception of the world as we give higher importance to irrelevant stimuli, interpreting them as threatening. 

How Negativity Bias Impacts Your Life

How often do you focus on bad news, revisit awkward conversations from your past or fixate on minor mistakes you made? Whether we realize it or not, negativity bias affects us daily. Simply having an unpleasant exchange with a stranger in the morning can ruin the rest of the day, preventing us from noticing the positives. In the long-term, negativity bias, when left unchecked, can contribute to issues such as:

  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • A feeling of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Anticipatory anxiety (excessive worrying about the future)
  • Depressive states
  • Ruminating (being stuck in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and feelings regarding one’s past)
  • Poor decision-making
  • Relationship struggles (trust issues, holding a grudge, etc.)

Overcoming Negativity Bias: 3 Tips

Since our default mode is to pay attention to unfortunate events, all we need to do to overcome negativity bias is to counterbalance it by prioritizing positivity in our lives. Here are some suggestions:

1. Reframe Your Situation 

While avoiding negative things can bring temporary release, it won’t solve your issues in the long term. Overcome negativity bias by changing your approach towards negativity first. After all, pain, sadness, and hardships are an intrinsic, inevitable part of human existence, just like love, happiness or pleasure are. Instead of treating negative aspects of life as horrible, open up to fully experiencing and using them as lessons.  Next time you make a mistake, don’t automatically assume you will always be a failure. Instead, thank yourself for this lesson and treat it as a step in the right direction, showing you room for improvement. 

2. Practice Mindfulness

Humans think countless thoughts each day. Practicing mindfulness can help you notice when negative thoughts are entering your mind and observe your bodily sensations and emotions related to these thoughts.  Let’s say you had an ugly argument with your partner, and you catch yourself thinking: „They’re only concerned about themselves. They don’t even care about me”. In that case, focus on the present moment, take deep breaths, and notice how you feel. Then, consider different ways to look at the fight. Chances are it’s not all that bad. 

3. Cultivate Gratitude 

Cultivating gratitude is the art of intentionally focusing on the positive aspects of life. Research shows how it supports our well-being, helping us sleep better, feel less stressed and be more kind. You can practice it by:

  • List 5 things you’re grateful for each day. 
  • Thanking other people in your life, whether it’s a stranger or your loved one.
  • Savoring little things like a delicious meal, an aromatic cup of coffee, or a fun conversation.

Get Professional Help with Harbor Psychiatry

If you’re struggling with abusive self-talk, getting stuck in the past, or maintaining a positive perspective, getting professional help might be a good idea. Addressing negativity bias and discussing it with the assistance of a qualified therapist can help you:

  • notice harmful thoughts and understand how they affect your emotions and behaviors,
  • confront and reframe any unhelpful beliefs,
  • Practice compassionate inner dialogue.

To start this journey towards a meaningful, healthy life, contact us today and see if our services fit your unique needs.