What Is Negativity Bias? | Definition & Examples
Negativity bias is the tendency to pay more attention to negative information than to positive information. Here, more weight is given to negative experiences over neutral or positive experiences. Due to negativity bias, we are much more influenced by negative events or information than by positive counterparts of equal significance.
Negativity bias causes us to dwell on the negative, making bad experiences seem much more important than they really are. This, in turn, can impact our decision-making and the opinions we form about others.
What is negativity bias?
Negativity bias is a form of cognitive bias. It is an asymmetry that occurs when we process negative and positive information in an attempt to make sense of our environment. Specifically, we attend to, learn from, and use negative information more often than positive information.
Negativity bias manifests whenever we tend to:
- focus on negative news or events
- weigh negative information more heavily than positive information
- be influenced by negative rather than positive emotions
Under negativity bias, we are inclined to internalize negative experiences more deeply, causing us to worry and dwell on small things. For example, we may obsess over a comment we made at a party and later regret or focus on the fact that someone cut in line in front of us. Even if the rest of our day was neutral or positive, these minor incidents can carry a disproportionately large weight and impact our mood.
In the context of decision-making, negativity bias makes us focus too much on negative traits. Due to this, people tend to be more motivated to vote against a candidate because of negative information. Overall, we tend to believe that negative information is more indicative of a person’s character than positive information.
What causes negativity bias?
Negativity bias is caused by an innate tendency to look for danger in our environment. This is a mechanism humans developed throughout our evolution. Thousands of years ago, our survival depended on being able to identify hazardous situations and threats, such as predators. To help us survive, the brain learned to seek out information that signaled danger.
Although our environment has changed, and we no longer have to run from predators, we are still wired for self-preservation. For this reason, something positive generally has less of an impact on our behavior and thoughts than something equally emotional but negative.
Negativity bias examples
Negativity bias causes us to place more emphasis on negative information. This can be used against us, influencing the quality of our decisions..
Negativity bias can also significantly impact how employees perceive and react to feedback.
How to avoid negativity bias
Negativity bias is deeply ingrained in human nature. As such, overcoming it requires some practice. The following strategies can help you in that direction:
- Acknowledge your bias. Like with other types of bias, the first step is to become aware of negativity bias. Notice, for example, when you are having negative thoughts or engaging in negative self-talk.
- Shift your attention. Negativity bias occurs because we pay more attention to negative information and events. We can redirect our attention to what’s positive around us by intentionally looking for positive experiences, emotions, or information in daily life.
- Practice mindfulness. Studies suggest that mindfulness can reduce negativity bias and increase positive judgments. Meditation practices like mindful breathing can help us anchor our attention in the present moment and interrupt rumination or negative thoughts.
Other types of research bias
Frequently asked questions
- Why is negativity bias a problem?
Negativity bias is a problem because it causes us to pay a disproportionate amount of attention to anything negative happening, even when positive things happen as well. This not only impacts our mood but also our perception of situations and other people.
For example, we process and use negative information more than positive information in arriving at a final impression of a person, even when the positive and negative information are equally significant or meaningful.
- What is the opposite of negativity bias?
The opposite of negativity bias is the positivity offset or positivity bias. This is a tendency that may lead people to:
- view reality in a positive rather than negative way
- hold positive expectations and memories
- favor positive information in reasoning
- What is an example of negativity bias in everyday life?
An example of negativity bias in everyday life is how we judge a person’s character. If someone whom we generally consider to be dishonest occasionally behaves in an honest way, this won’t change our negative opinion of that person.
However, if someone whom we generally view as honest commits a dishonest act, we will immediately change our evaluation for the worse. Due to negativity bias, we attach more weight to negative behaviors and these disproportionately influence our judgment.
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