Negativity bias - humans' hardwiring

Ever wondered why there is no good news network? Or why people flock to the bad news? Or why there seems to be bad news wherever you turn?

It’s because of the human brain’s negativity bias. People see the negative far more than they see the positive.

Why is that?

It’s because humans are hardwired to behave this way. It’s genetically encoded. In relative terms, it wasn’t so long ago when humans were foraging for food in the open. Just like other animals, they would need to be alert to dangers. If they weren’t scanning the area for dangers, there’s a good chance they’d get eaten by an animal. Over time, only people who were good at scanning for danger survived.

But now that there are fewer physical dangers lurking about, people still constantly scan for danger because it’s part of their brain wiring.

The good news is that human brains have neuroplasticity. Big word for people can change. If people focus on the positive intentionally, they can slowly change the negativity bias.

It takes intention and effort. Here are some things people can do. First, be mindful. Have positive experiences. Notice positive experiences. Then link positive experiences with negative experiences. Focus more on the positives on a consistent basis, realizing that it’s natural to focus on the negative.

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Yes, I was going to say something along the lines of looking for danger so you can avoid it. It’s an interesting phenomenon which doesn’t really make sense in today’s world. (Well pre-Covid anyway) But now obviously with all that is going wrong, people seem to gravitate towards the bad stuff and then wonder why they feel anxious all the time. It’s a vicious circle.

This reminds me of gratitude and making a note of all the good things in life. Personally I have found being grateful for things very helpful, although it’s an effort to try and remember it when feeling upset or angry at something!


What gets me is I hate bad news yet I have to watch the news and I KNOW it’s bad news?
I keep thinking I need to stop watching the news as I keep getting upset yet I just can’t stop watching it!!

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I so disagree with this.

I always look for the good in things and see the funny side of life.

A sense of humour, even black humour, is what has kept me going.

Humans can be absolutely evil, my life has been spent dealing with the most evil.

My choice, my decision and I accept the downsides.

I also accept the positives of such a choice and it is very rewarding at most times, but nasty at others.

Still worth doing the job however.


This is so much harder than people think. It’s not just a matter of “think positive”. That can be toxic positivity which is trying to bury the negative emotions instead of dealing with them, pretending that the negative emotions don’t exist. That strategy doesn’t work for long. It’s a delicate balance of acknowledging the negative emotions, working through them and also trying to focus on the positive. It’s a lifelong journey.

Sounds like you’re aware of the process. They say that’s halfway there.

I think sometimes we can over-complicate things.

Doesn’t it really just depend on whether you can control your thoughts, or whether you just sit there and let your thoughts control you?

There is a lot to be said for this ‘mindfullness.’ In fact, perhaps we should even start learning it at school, after all, there seem to be more and more kids suffering all sorts of anxieties nowadays.


If you can control your thoughts all the time or even most of the time, I applaud you.

I’m reminded of that experiment where they tell you not to think about pink elephants and then see how many times people think of pink elephants. Trying not to think about something can be pretty difficult. Same with trying to control thoughts. For me anyway, they’re not so easily controlled.

Maybe after having a particularly bad spell in my life many years ago, and coming through it, I learned from that experience never to go down that road again. I firmly believe you learn as much (if not more) from bad experiences than you do good ones.
The first time it happens you don’t know the signs, but you would the second time.
Then it is your choice what you do - sink, or swim.

I also think 10 or 11 years of having a exceptional Yoga teacher has taught me a lot about controlling our thoughts.

We will always experience pain in our lives at times, but it’s not letting it take over and control you that’s important for our wellbeing.


I always prefer to be optimistic about things but having read Brian Cox" Humans might be ‘the only intelligent life in our galaxy" I’m not so sure now.

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At least there’s hope for other galaxies but we’re doomed!

the buddhists seem to have a good take on mindfulness and positive thinking - their meditation exercises are about focusing on one simple thing the air going in and the air going out of the nostrils - all negativity and too much positivity is being swept away for another day!

of course one could say that following and contributing to forums too often can also be a stimulus for too much negative or postive stimulus?

It’s a bit difficult to be happy clappy when things are not going well .
Not every Buddhist is the Dalai Lama either they get depressed and unhappy too probably because they don’t have time to sit about meditating about being positive.

It’s nice to see you are still in it.How is the virus treating you?

My mother used to say there’s always someone worse off than you.She said other things as well but not for pubic consumption.

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you done any research on this or just making a wild unfounded claim??

I call it life experience . Take Thailand a country that is about 95% Buddhist. Yet it has quite a high crime rate , murder and violent crime is common . People get depressed and unhappy there the same as anywhere . They are clearly not all breathing down their noses or contemplating their navel .

For sure.

People can make time for positivity or take time for misery. Their choice.

It’s not like positive thoughts take so much more time than negative ones. It’s just sometimes hard to notice the negative ones when people are too busy to notice anything.

Edit: I was answering this more generally about the topic but the comment may have been about all Buddhists in particular.

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I’m almost 100% - thanks

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This is just not true .
It ignores the many factors that contribute to mental health .
Making time for positivity is just a sound bite and it’s not a choice for many people .We can’t just all ‘think positive’ constantly because that’s not the reality of the human experience
As humans, we all experience the full gamut of emotions ,anger, and guilt, and sadness, in addition to happiness.