The Negativity Bias, the News, and Pessimism.

Looking back over your life, do you ever think about how negative events tend to stand out in your memory more than positive ones? Given relatively similar negative and positive experiences, we tend to focus more on negative ones. In psychology this is known as the negativity bias. Think about it, would you have a stronger emotional reaction to somebody giving you $40 or someone stealing $40 from you? Which of the two would you be more likely to remember several years down the line?

Researchers suggest that the negativity bias is something that we evolved as a way to keep ourselves safe from harm. When it comes down to survival, it is much more important for example, for a child to remember that a hot stove will burn him/her than it is for him/her to remember where he/she found a cookie. Like many other base biological responses, in a world where we are not constantly faced with threats to our survival, the negativity bias can cause trouble for us. This is most evident in people who experience a trauma and find themselves having PTSD or a phobia of something that others would consider harmless.

News outlets capitalize on the negativity bias by focusing on negative events around the world. Through doing this, they are more likely to capture the attention of their audiences. One of the ways the negativity bias can be harmful to people is through leading them to focus on, and invest more emotional energy into perceived negativity in the world. If you were to believe that the world is accurately depicted by what you see on the news, then you would believe the world to be a pretty hostile place.

It is true that there are many negative things in the world, but there are also a lot of positives, and in many ways the world is becoming a better place. In the following video, John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars talks about some ways the world is becoming better.

Through being exposed to massive amounts of negativity through the news on a regular basis, the negativity bias can lead otherwise happy people to become pessimistic and negative about the world. In fact, many people do incorrectly assume that some things in the world are terrible and are only getting worse! Hans Rosling; Swedish medical doctor and professor has a lot of work out that challenges our negative assumptions about the world and contrasts them with the more positive reality. The following video of his is kind of long, but if you are interested, it is worth watching.

Sometimes when the world has knocked you down over and over, it can be hard not to be pessimistic in life. Pessimism, hopelessness, and perceived lack of options can be signs of depression and/or PTSD. If you or someone you love are experiencing PTSD or depression, therapy can help. One way counseling helps is by helping people be more mindful of, challenge, and re-evaluate their automatic responses. Sometimes things are only negative because we assume them to be.


Joe Borders, MFT
Counseling and Therapy in Roseville and Sacramento
(530) 448-6602

1722 Professional Drive,
Sacramento, CA 95825
775 Sunrise Ave., suite 110
Roseville, Ca 95661
More about counseling and therapy with me

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