What is the Negativity Bias?

The technical definition

The negativity bias is the phenomena by which humans give more psychological weight to bad experiences than a good ones. In fact, some researchers assert that negative emotions have an impact close to 3x stronger than positive emotions.

Huh, what does this mean?

In short, “bad stuff” is stronger than “good stuff.” Subsequently, you think about bad experiences for longer periods of time and they weigh more heavily upon you.

Imagine you spend  the day with your daughter immersed in activities you both love. You laugh, share stories, and enjoy great conversation-you feel truly connected with your child. After a delicious meal to top off the day, you stand up feeling refreshed and ready to go home. Your daughter looks and you and gently asks if she can go to school late tomorrow-she’s tired. You’re instantly annoyed. As you drive home you debate her request and by the time you arrive home, you’re exhausted and drained. You feel your daughter has been ungrateful and go to sleep feeling the day was a bust. What happened to all those good feelings from the day? Your positive experiences were drown out by the negative ones. You’ve been a victim of the negativity bias!

How can I use this in my life?

The negativity bias served a strong evolutionary purpose. Being highly attuned to danger in the environment allowed humans to survive natural threats. But long gone are prehistoric times. The chances you’ll run into a saber-toothed tiger on your way to work are slim to none, so it’s time to tone down your negativity bias! A few of these tips will help you minimize the effect that the bias on your life and relationships.

  • Awareness. Be aware that your body is on-guard with emotions of anxiety and fear; you are likely to react strongly to negative stimuli in your environment.
  • Be mindful. Allow yourself time to stop and think about the whole picture before reacting to a given situation. When you face a negative event, make sure you take a deep breath and cool down before you react.
  • Savor. When something positive happens, pause and relish in the feeling for several moments.s
  • Self-compassion. Take care of yourself and your relationships. Provide yourself, and your family, with an abundance of opportunities to experience the positive.
  • Ratios. Research reveals that negative experiences outweigh positive ones by 3:1. Try to infuse your life with deliberate positivity. Practice happiness techniques on GoStrengths!


Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323-370.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York, NY, US: Crown Publishers/Random House.

3 thoughts on “What is the Negativity Bias?”

  1. Thanks for a great post. I am a strong proponent of the positivity ratio, both in my own life, and in teh work I do. The graphic is great and so are the suggestions.

  2. Good summary of the negativity bias. I’d love to see more about how to apply this to business. I came across this article while research this bias, hoping to find some useful information to pass along to our customer support team. This is certainty a good summary + visuals.


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