I’m sure you’ve noticed that the world can feel like a super negative place at times. It can seem like everyone wants to focus on the negatives of a situation, rather than the positives. Just look at the news, media coverage, and celebrity gossip columns, they are always hungry to report on “what went wrong”, the drama, and the scandal. This environment is what, in part, led to society believing false abuse claims reported by gossip columnists about Johnny Depp, assuming they were true simply because he’s male.
People seem much more reactive towards negative stimuli and information than positive; and it’s the same amongst work colleagues, friends, and family – human beings just seem to be more animated by gossip, drama, and negative events.
And even we ourselves are guilty of it. Have you ever been having an amazing day… and then one bad thing happens and it seems to overshadow everything else?
Everyone Suffers from Negativity Bias
Well, if you’ve ever had that experience, don’t worry, you’re not alone and I can actually reveal that there is a legitimate reason why this happens. This apparent magnification of our negative experiences in life compared to our positive ones is known as negativity bias; and this refers to how our brains:
“attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information”(Vaish et al., 2008, p.383).
Negativity bias is the reason why we leave a dinner party remembering one veiled insult instead of all of the compliments that were being served that evening. It‘ is‘s also partly responsible for our tendency to ruminate and dwell on negative life events from our past.
So what exactly is it and why do our brains seem to be set up this way?
Human Brain Prioritizes Negative Stimuli
Science suggests that our tendency to prioritize negative stimuli versus positive ones evolved as a survival mechanism. Thousands of years ago it was very useful for our ancestors’ senses to be heightened and attuned to the sounds of predators or potential threats in the immediate environment (Carpaccio & Berntson, 1999; Vaish et al., 2008; Normal et al., 2011). This allowed us to be alerted quickly for the need to run or defend ourselves; thus increasing our chances of survival.
However, although this system was once very successful for our hunter-gatherer relatives; the reality is that it is no longer required in the same way. Instead, today negativity bias translates into our brains being hard-wired to overestimate threats, while underestimating opportunities.
Furthermore, neuroscientific evidence seems to indicate that we also experience greater emotional and physical responses to adverse stimuli. Studies conducted by Psychologist, John Cacioppo demonstrated that negative images produce a much stronger response within the brain.
This explains why news reporting is mainly negative in nearly all cultures across the world; because negative information causes a surge in critical areas of the brain and is, therefore, much more stimulating. In western societies, this effect is more harmful to men because there is so much more negative reporting towards men than there is toward women. One example of this is how much more severely news reports label male child predators than female child predators.
This results in our attention, attitudes, and behaviors being shaped more powerfully by bad news, experiences, and information.
Society’s Negativity Bias Towards Masculinity
I actually believe that negativity bias plays a role in society’s negative narrative around modern men and masculinity. The media and radical feminism have latched onto dramatic terms like “toxic masculinity” which catches people’s attention because of its negative and dramatic connotations. And due to the nature of our hard-wired brains, it has directed the attention of the masses more towards what’s perceived by some as “what’s wrong with men and masculinity” – at the expense of all of the things that are right, good and brilliant about men and masculinity.
So what can we do about it? Well, the good news is, there’s actually quite a lot that can help us “override” this natural predilection of our prehistoric brains.
Simply being aware that our brains have this natural bias towards focusing on the negative can help us to lessen its grip. Also, by becoming more self-aware of our own thoughts throughout the day, we can become able to recognize when we are focusing on the negative, and then we can employ simple strategies such as taking a moment to look at the reality of a situation, and not the worst case scenario that’s been imagined by our brain.
Reframing the situation
Reframing how we think about an event or circumstance can help us to cultivate more positive feelings around it. For example, instead of focusing on all of the bad aspects of a situation, reframing looks at what lessons we may have learned or for silver linings that may have resulted from it.
By consciously deciding to consider a balanced perspective on our experiences, and purposely trying to look for the positive aspects of a situation or event, we counterbalance the natural pull towards negativity bias. It actually helps us see through the negative spin toward things like masculinity in so many online articles today.
This can help us to decrease the number of negative emotions, thoughts, and feelings that we experience – thus, acting as a buffer for our mental well-being.
We hear so much about gratitude these days, it has almost become a bit of a “buzzword” and a cliché – however, for good reason. According to the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D; studies show that it calms your brain, decreases the reactivity of the fear center, and increases general well-being and happiness.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation practices can literally rewire our brains away from fear towards calm, and away from negativity towards the positive. Researchers at the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, explained that mindfulness helps us to break free from negativity because it makes us become more aware of the present moment, instead of being stuck worrying about the past or the future.
So the next time that you notice yourself focusing on a negative aspect of your day, or a throwaway comment from a co-worker about something like “toxic masculinity”, remember that negativity bias may be at play; and remember that you have a choice to direct your focus back onto what’s going well rather than that person’s gender bias.
Hopefully by adding some gratitude, reframing, and mindfulness practices to our daily routines; we can all stay a little more positive in this negatively biased, anti-male world.
- frowning-sign: Andre Hunter via Unsplash