The Psychological Predisposition to Bad News

Humans are predisposed to pay more attention to bad news, to things that can go or have gone wrong. The psychological term for it is Negativity Bias. We are all inclined towards life’s negativity. This is the idea that Susan spent her whole career battling against—just because we are predisposed to negativity doesn’t mean we have to give in to it!

People paying more attention to bad news has several explanations. In an evolutionary light, survival meant being more aware of the things that could kill you. Updated to the 21st century, this means that we have a predisposition to fear. From a sociological point-of-view, humans perceive bad news as more important or profound. Part of it is because we have a selective (i.e. short) attention span, but also it’s because we tend to be suspicious of “good news.”

Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker has argued that this is the safest time in history—fewer wars, less violence, better medicine and health, among a host of other things—yet most people believe that things are getting much worse. Our bias toward negativity is getting in the way of truly appreciating how good we have it now.