Exploring the Brain’s Negativity Bias

No matter how hard you try to maintain optimism and a confident demeanour, it does not mean your brain is going to cooperate. This happens to everyone, and the cause is hardwired into us from birth — it is known as brain negativity bias. Simply put, this means that our minds are naturally formed to be more sensitive to unpleasant situations (and to react to them poorly). Today, we will examine this bias in more detail.

Genetically-Influenced Reactivity

The brain’s bias towards negativity appears to be intended to function as a natural defence, developed throughout evolution as mankind has regularly interacted with adverse circumstances such as predators, disputes, and violence. This genetic inheritance from a history of avoiding risk and defending ourselves has resulted in our minds becoming highly reactive to negative triggers. Over time, systems have developed that would cause our species to mentally over-process less-than-desirable circumstances. Negative situations inherently result in a greater stimulus and a higher surge of electrical activity in the brain.

Benefits of a Negative Bias

It might all sound gloomy and concerning, but there are several beneficial circumstances to having a negative mental bias hardwired into us from the beginning. It helps to sharpen our perceptions of the world around us, being more acute and honed-in to recognize key indicators of danger or risk. In a way, our brains have been genetically trained to expect the worst and not get hopes up for positive outcomes. This may sound strange, as this is what many of us already try to teach ourselves to manage expectations in the modern world better. The next time you feel concern or fear of something that turns out to be a risk — such as a car going through an intersection when the walk signal is on for pedestrians — take the time to consider why your mind reacted negatively. This is the bias in action.

On Relationships

Between partners, there is evidence of balanced positivity and negativity. This is because emotions play a role in helping to maintain even the most intimate relationships. Two people in a long-term relationship develop a stronger understanding of one another, right down to when positive input is needed and what not to say that could upset one another. Therefore, the negative bias is scaled back and balanced with positive feelings. Researchers have indicated that it is not a 50/50 split, however. A healthy and prosperous relationship requires five times as much positive reinforcement as there is negative, which makes sense as many of us wouldn’t stay in a relationship that doesn’t make us feel good.

The Little Things Matter

Living with a negative mental bias is best achieved by striking the closest possible balance between positive and negative triggers. This helps to train the brain that not every situation is one that should increase blood pressure or stress. Individuals with anxiety, PTSD, and Bipolar disorder tend to be those who are the most challenged in achieving this outcome. It could very well be that in some instances, their negative bias is genetically stronger. This is not to say that only major positive events such as a wedding or expensive holiday getaway are what will help balance our mental perspectives. In fact, frequent minor positive experiences are what train our minds more efficiently. This is largely because there are more of them, with shorter gaps of negativity or neutrality between them. Therefore, the mind is more quickly adapted to re-approach circumstances.

Happiness and Bias

Maybe you’ve heard that those who make the most of the little things in life and strive to find positivity in everything they experience are the happiest. When considering the impact of the brain’s negative bias, this is true, as those who train themselves to be more “mentally optimistic” tend to lead happier and healthier lives. If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or other conditions that detract from your everyday existence, it can be a challenge to do this. However, with practice and guidance from an experienced therapist, anything is possible if you try hard enough.

If your brain is producing an overly negative bias and you have a hard time getting the most out of every day, don’t worry. Contact us today for friendly, thoughtful and considerate guidance from an Ottawa-area therapist who can help to re-focus your perceptions.