Sometimes, without even realising, the way we begin our day can have a huge effect on how we feel and which direction our day then takes.

How easy do you find it to start the day off well, and then one negative thing can seem to manifest another, and then you start overthinking, downward spiral etc. i.e. stubbing your toe on the end of the bed, spilling your coffee, dropping something then getting stuck in every set of red traffic lights…

This is all due to our evolved Negativity Bias.  Our emotions and in this case our Negative emotions affect every single cell in our body.

How do thoughts and feelings affect the health of our cells? 

  • Research shows that 70% of our thoughts are actually negative and repetitive. 
  • We are bombarded with 4 billion nerve impulses every second but can only handle 2000 impulses consciously. 
  • Our thoughts are the most powerful tools we have.  Every thought affects our cells and DNA.  
  • If we constantly bombard our cells with peptides from a negative attitude, we are programming our cells to receive more of those peptides in the future and are lessening the number of receptors of positive attitude peptides, making us inclined towards negativity.

What do we know about our Negativity Bias?

Negativity Bias is the name given by psychologists to the human tendency to be much more likely to be influenced by and to recall negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences. 

There are many ways in which the Negativity Bias manifests itself. Here are some examples:

  • We remember insults more than we remember praise.
  • Negative experiences tend to be more memorable than positive ones.
  • The brain has a tendency to be vigilant and wary.
  • For positive experiences to resonate, they have to occur much more frequently than negative ones.
  • The brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than to positive stimuli. Studies show that there’s a greater surge in electrical activity in the brain when we see a picture of something negative—like a dead animal—than we see a picture of something positive—like a great holiday.
  • If something good and something bad happen to you on the same day, you will react more strongly to the bad than to the good (even if both events are otherwise comparable).
  • When your mind wanders it’s more likely to recall something that made you angry or upset, instead of recalling something that made you happy and filled you with pride.

Here is a good example: -

  • You received a performance review at work that was quite positive overall and noted your strong performance and achievements. A few constructive comments pointed out areas where you could improve, and you find yourself fixating on those remarks. Rather than feeling good about the positive aspects of your review, you feel upset and angry about the few critical comments.

Human beings developed a negativity bias—that is, they evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the negative—since that helped our ancestors to stay alive. Thousands and thousands of years ago it was more important to escape negative situations than it was to approach opportunity. Think of the following:

  • Your caveman ancestor notices a berry bush up ahead.
  • The bush rustles slightly. Was it just the wind? Or was it a hungry tiger crouching behind the bush?
  • Your ancestor wouldn’t even have stopped to analyse the situation. As soon as he noticed the slight rustle he would have fled for his life.

After all, being killed by a tiger is final, while missing out on the opportunity to eat berries isn’t. 

By assuming the worst from the rustling in the bush and running away, your ancestor made sure to survive so that he could pass on his genes. He could eat berries another day.

In our modern world, having a negativity bias is no longer necessary for our survival. However, our brains are still wired to constantly be on the lookout for tigers; that is, they are wired for negativity.

Research suggests that this negativity bias starts to emerge in infancy. Very young infants tend to pay greater attention to positive facial expression and tone of voice, but this begins to shift as they near one year of age.

Brain studies indicate that around this time, babies begin to experience greater brain responses to negative stimuli. This suggests that the brain's negative bias emerges during the latter half of a child’s first year of life. There is some evidence that the bias may actually start even earlier in development.

One study found that infants as young as three months old show signs of the negativity bias when making social evaluations of others.

Left unchecked, the negativity bias can become a serious impediment to our happiness and quality of life. 

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the negativity bias, which I look at in Strategies For Dealing With The Negativity Bias

Written by Amanda Forster-Searle

Mental Health & Wellness Mentor

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