Why being negative is SO easy.


Most of us probably have a thousand good memories about being in love. But why is it that experiencing a single breakup could make us fear love for years?

If you attended an event wherein more than ten people were warm and kind to you but one has given you an awful remark, how could that person make you feel bad for the rest of the night and the succeeding days?

Why do we easily get used to positive circumstances but find it hard to move on from the negative?

Are we hardwired to look the glass half empty?

If you often find yourself clinging to negativity, don’t feel bad. Most people do. A growing body of research in neuroscience suggests that our brain has the tendency to register negative memories quicker and deeper than the positive ones. Psychologists refer to it as the “negativity bias”.

Here’s how it works. Our brain has two different systems involved in storing positive and negative memories – left hemisphere which keeps all the positive stuff and the right hemisphere which focuses on the negative. But another region amplifies our brain’s ability to store negative thoughts – the amygdala.

This almond-shape set of neurons quickly transforms the bad news into a long-term memory. Our negativity bias is so rapid that it is detected even during the earliest stages of emotional processing. On the other hand, the positive information has to be held in awareness for at least 12 seconds before it becomes a long-term memory.

In a series of study led by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, wherein participants were shown either negative, positive and neutral images, he demonstrated that the brain reacts quicker to negative stimuli  than to the positive or neutral stimuli by exhibiting greater surge in electrical activity.

Most psychologists and neuroscientists agree that our negativity bias evolved from our innate desire to survive. From the dawn of history, our early ancestors’ chance of survival depends on their ability to sense and dodge danger. And as products of evolution, we, modern humans, are well adept in sensing and responding to negative experiences, thoughts or emotions.

Whilst the real purpose of negativity bias is to keep as away from danger, it can also cause distress to our daily life. Giving more importance to negativity makes us more stressed, anxious and inclined to depression.

So how can we make those positive memories linger longer than the negative ones? Here are some research-based techniques to minimise the effects of negativity bias.

Give thanks, every day.

Allow yourself to be grateful for the big and little things you have in life. Whether it’s the nice gift you received this morning, the ‘good morning’ greeting you received from your spouse or child, or that friendly dog you see running through the neighbourhood.  Each night before you sleep, write down three good things that happened during the day. If your brain easily forgets positive memories, a daily journal could be of great help.

Savour every happy moment.

As mentioned, it takes an average of 12 seconds before your brain converts the good stuff into a long-term memory. So don’t forget to savour and bask in the joy of the event so you can effectively absorb the good feelings each happy moment brings.

Skip today’s headline.

Whilst it’s great to stay informed with what’s happening in the world, absorbing tons of negative news all the time can make you more stressed and anxious. Take time off from watching news or reading newspapers for at least a day or two every week. Instead, listen to or read about the good stuff – success and inspiring stories, new business strategies, upcoming movies, etc.

Make accurate judgements.

As intellectuals, we often rationalise every event that happens, especially the bad ones. But doing this in the heat of the moment may not help our brain make accurate decisions. For a while, distance yourself from the negative situation and allow yourself to think deeper – considering the pros and cons before deciding what to do next.

Be mindful.

Mindfulness has a special way of helping us overcome the effects of negativity bias. Instead of simply reciting positive thoughts to alter the negative ones, develop awareness of the negative emotions or thoughts you experience and put them into perspective.

Mindfulness involves taking a deeper examination of negative emotions – where they are coming from, how intense they are, and whether they are valid or not. Once we realise that most negative thoughts and predictions have no basis at all, it can be easy to let go of them and feel more comfortable.


Richard Scott
Clinical Hypnotherapist

Part of the Core Health Centre

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