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The Negativity Bias

The concept of the Negativity Bias is based on the works of psychologists Roy F. Baumister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Kathleen Vohs and Catrin Finkenauer. Their findings concluded that the Negativity Bias is a natural tendency in human behavior. Those findings were published in 2001 in the Review of General Psychology. In essence, these psychologists discovered that negative experience (fear of bad events), has a far greater impact on people than do neutral experiences or even positive ones. As a result, humans are biased toward behavior that will avoid negative experiences. They are much more likely to recall and be influenced by negative rather than positive experiences in their past.

When you think about your own life experiences, you can see Negativity Bias influence. Try to remember a compliment you received in high school and then try to remember an insult. Often people will more easily remember the insults than the compliments.

The Negativity Bias might also help explain the outcomes of political smear campaigning. People remember the negative comments which tend to influence them to vote against a candidate. This powerful concept has been known to overpower the person’s voting action despite their admiration for a particular candidate.

Parents can benefit from understanding the Negativity Bias because it can influence and shape parenting experiences. Most good parents provide children with many positive and neutral experiences. However, the day mom or dad loses it and screams at the kids is the day that kids, long into adulthood, will remember. Knowing that a negative act toward a child is likely to become much more prominent in a child’s memory may help us to remember how important it is to try to keep our tempers.

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