Life is hard. But what makes it even harder is that our minds invariably focus on the negatives than the positives. The sad part is we often can’t help it. It’s part of human design. Naturally, as hunter-gatherers, we needed to pay special attention to dangerous situations in life lest we become food for a wild tiger nearby.
This is called the Negativity Bias and it states that things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things, even when of equal intensity.
Researchers at Harvard University found this to be true through an interesting experiment. They asked participants to identify “blue” dots from a series of thousand dots ranging in color from blue to purple. These dots would flash on the screen one after the other. Initially, participants identified the colors pretty accurately. At this time, roughly half the dots were blue and half were purple. As time went on, however, the researchers started showing fewer blue dots.
Strangely, the participants reacted by identifying a greater number of blue dots than were actually present. As the number of blue dots decreased, the participants started identifying dots as blue when in reality, they were a shade of purple.
It’s as if the participants were trained to see and expect a certain number of blue dots. And even when they were not shown, the participants expanded their definition of “blue” to include shades of purple.
Okay, enough with the blue dots. Now comes the interesting part. In further experiments, the researchers found the same effect when participants had to identify aggressive faces from a group that ranged from ‘very threatening’ to ‘not very threatening,’ and again when separating unethical research proposals from ethical ones.
Even though the occurrence of “problems” (threatening faces/unethical proposals) went down, participants began to misread friendly and neutral faces as threatening and ethical proposals as fraudulent.
This came to be termed as the “Blue Dot Effect” which suggests that our mind is conditioned to look for threats and issues, regardless of how safe our environment is.
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