Overcoming the Negativity Bias

You were quoted in a short post about negativity bias in which you stated, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positives ones.” Can you explain this in more detail?

As the brain evolved, it was critically important to learn from negative experiences – if one survived them! “Once burned, twice shy.” So the brain has specialized circuits that register negative experiences immediately in emotional memory. On the other hand, positive experiences – unless they are very novel or intense – have standard issue memory systems, and these require that something be held in awareness for many seconds in a row to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage. Since we rarely do this, most positive experiences flow through the brain like water through a sieve, while negative ones are caught every time. Thus my metaphor of Velcro and Teflon – an example of what scientists call the “negativity bias” of the brain.

The effects include: a growing sensitivity to stress, upset, and other negative experiences; a tendency toward pessimism, regret, and resentment; and a long shadows cast by old pain.

What are some good facts in your life that you don’t usually notice? What are some positive facts that you do notice but don’t usually have a positive experience about? Even when you do notice a good facts and have a good experience as a result, how often do you stay with that good experience for a dozen or more seconds?

The post Overcoming the Negativity Bias appeared first on Dr. Rick Hanson.


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