The Impact of Negativity Bias

Why we tend to focus on the bad stuff first.

Negativity bias is a term that describes something that, I think, we all instinctively know - that essentially negative things can overwhelm positive ones because they have more impact on your emotional state.

Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.
- Our Brain’s Negativity Bias

So, what happens when we surround ourselves with media and feedback that is overwhelmingly negative? We get things like the occupational burnout that is seemingly so prevalent in our industry (i.e. development and technology).

We surround ourselves with platforms that seem biased towards negative interactions (hello Twitter or Reddit or any comment section on nearly any blog with traffic - i.e. not this one ;) ).

The transition between acceptance and healing was blurry. The more I accepted, the more I allowed myself to heal. Part of this was turning off the noise. No notifications on the phone, no smartwatch, no computer, no social media, no regular TV.
- My Personal Burnout Story

For me, this was a year of pulling back from the community and from being open. Sure, the election accelerated that, but it started long beforehand for reasons having nothing to do with politics. I have cut back on writing articles (except pure tutorial pieces on occassion), stopped participating in online discussions, stopped tweeting anything but links, backd out of organizing events and meetups (or even attending them). Essentially, I pulled back from a lot and, where I couldn’t fully pull back, I removed my feelings and my opinions out of it.

This year I felt overwhelmed by negative interactions. Not even those directed purely towards me, but of a community that has become bent on criticizing, attacking and public shaming. Every time I would consider joining a discussion, a quick look at the comments or replies reminded me of why I no longer felt compelled to speak out. (And, to be clear, there are times in my past that I know that I have regrettably contributed to the negativity.)

Part of what drove me into the community was that I felt encouraged and welcomed. I think we need to be careful of focusing too much on negative feedback if we’re going to create a community that is as welcoming as the one I found when I first became an active member 12 years ago.