Negativity effect thinking

The first type of stupid thinking that we will discuss is a very common one which you may even recognise in yourself.

In our lives, we all have positive experiences (e.g. getting a promotion at work) and negative experiences (e.g. losing an expensive mobile phone). Unfortunately, the human brain can have the tendency to give more than needed importance to the negative experiences while mostly ignoring the positive experiences. This increased focus on negative events can make one unnecessarily feel that things are worse than they really are. Psychologists have named this kind of stupid thinking as “negativity effect” thinking.

The example below shows how negativity effect thinking can be harmful.


Joe works in a financial company and was asked to give four important presentations at a company meeting. Joe worked really hard on his presentations and was well prepared.

On the day, he gave four excellent presentations. They were well written, delivered clearly and had nice clear diagrams. Each presentation was followed by a question and answer session. At the first three presentations, Joe answered all the questions perfectly. However, at the last presentation, he made a small mistake when answering one of the questions and this made some of the members in the audience laugh. However, at the end of the day, everyone applauded Joe for his excellent presentations.

But that evening, Joe was very depressed. His brain was doing negativity effect thinking and was ignoring all the positive experiences of the day where he had made four excellent presentations and had answered all questions except one, perfectly. All that Joe thought about was that one question he answered wrongly. That one negative episode overshadowed the otherwise perfect day, making Joe unnecessarily feel depressed. In reality, instead of being depressed, he should have been overjoyed by the overall good performance he had done on the day.


As you have seen, negativity effect thinking can cause real distress. So why does the human brain have the tendency to focus on negative experiences and therefore harm one’s well being unnecessarily? It is possible that “negativity effect” thinking may have originated in the brains of our distant ancestors. When our ancestors lived in the forest, life would have been dangerous as there was always the possibility of being eaten up by an hungry animal. For example, imagine that one of our ancestors went near a tiger who then bit this ancestor’s arm. Let’s also imagine that luckily, on this occasion, this ancestor was able to escape from the tiger before further damage could occur. After this narrow escape from death, negativity effect thinking would have been useful for our ancestor, as it would have made sure that he would have remembered the negative event and be extra vigilant for roaming tigers. Unfortunately, thousands of years later, despite most of us not living in forests and near tigers, this tendency for the brain to focus on negative events still persists in you and me, and can cause us unhappiness.

So in your life, to prevent unnecessary distress, it is important to guard against your brain doing negativity effect type of stupid thinking. Try and give importance to both positive and negative experiences in a balanced way, instead of only seeing the negative aspects. You should feel good about the positive experiences and learn from the negative experiences.