Do you ever find yourself stuck on something unpleasant that happened during your week? Most things may have gone well but your mind keeps going back to that one bad incident. Several studies indicate that there is an asymmetry in how our brain processes positive and negative events. It responds more intensely to negative stimuli. The negative emotions last longer than positive emotions. We think more about them and dwell on them. This is called the ‘negativity bias’ of the mind.  

‘Negativity bias’ is the tendency of the human mind to pay more attention to negative information. This is why we:

  • respond more emotionally and physically to unfavorable stimuli
  • revisit incidents that hurt, infuriate, frustrate us
  • ruminate about unpleasant events and respond more to them relative to pleasant events 

This bias served a useful purpose during the evolutionary years of humans when we were constantly under physical threat from predators and forces of nature, but it has limited use now. It affects how we think, feel, act, and connect with others. It makes us anxious.

The good news is that we can train our brains to overcome the negativity bias. Since the bias causes us to notice the negative, the antidote is to consciously drive our attention towards something neutral. Mindful breathing is an effective way of achieving this. Another good approach is to stop and savor the positive moments longer. Whether it is the sight of lilies, your toddler’s antics, or time with friends, allowing pleasant feelings to linger and building your store of happy memories helps address the default negativity bias of the mind. 

Making small shifts consciously to deal with negativity bias can enhance our well-being, strengthen our relationships, and improve our decision making. So next time you find yourself stuck on an adverse aspect of life, try one of the above approaches and let us know how it goes.  

Photo credit – The Awkward Yeti