Negativity bias is the psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories.
Participants in a study were shown pictures with people both showing negative, positive and neutral faces. Various types of expressions were exhibited in all of them. The subjects could exceedingly easier recall the expressions of those who showed anger or other forms of aggression.Researchers have found that children and adults have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. Unpleasant memories are remembered more vividly. Also negative memories get less distorted over time. As humans, we learn faster when we have negative reinforcement.
The use of social media for large organizations demonstrates the negativity bias. McDonalds used Twitter to get customers to tell their favorite stories of their experiences with the restaurant . Out of the 79,000 tweets about McDonalds, 2,000 were negative. Even though 97.5% of the tweets had a positive sentiment, most of the headlines focused on the failure of the campaign.
Research suggests many explanations behind the negativity bias. Listed below are several explanations ranging from small to large instances of information integration. Each of these tries to clarify why negativity biases occur. However, future research must be conducted in order to fully understand the causation of humans’ negative mindset.
Selective attention: Research shows that people pay more attention to negative issues. Because humans can only focus on one message at a time, due to selective attention, the negative message becomes more profound.
Retrieval and accessibility: Some studies found some negativity biases to appear only over time. This demonstrates how memory places an important role in negativity bias. Throughout the retrieval process, negativity biases arise. People retain the impression of information rather than the features of the information. Also, because negative experiences and memories are more distinct in one’s mind, they are retrieved more rapidly and therefore more easily accessible.
Definitiveness: Humans rely heavily on distinguishing features from an object. For example, when talking about cars, people rely on the features that make a certain car stand out from another car. However, when this effect is applied to perception of people, it is the negative traits that stand out. Normal traits of people tend to be positive traits, so when perceiving other people, humans rely heavily on the negative appearances such as a big nose or a round tummy.
The judgment process: People weigh negative information more than positive information because that is how they think it should be weighed. It makes sense to people to think in negative terms.
The figure–ground hypothesis: There are many happy people in the world and most people expect and report high levels of personal happiness. People evaluate others in a positive way, and this makes it easier for the more negative information to stand out so much.
Novelty and distinctiveness: Negative information is more distinctive and more novel compared to positive information. The fact that it has more novelty means that it will be remembered more and more easily recalled. The fact that it is more distinctive means that it will be more distinguishable among different objects. If the negative information eliminates its surprisingness or informativeness it will reduce the impact of the negative information.
Credibility: Negative information is more credible than positive information. Because there is a strong normative pressure to say positive things, the person who says something negative is the one who is more likely to seem sincere
Interference effects: Humans have a very hard time enjoying the positive attributes of an object or event when there is a negative attribute clinging to that same object or event. For example, if an iPhone screen is cracked, then it is a cracked iPhone and no longer a great and fabulous iPhone.