Negativity Bias

A negativity bias is a cognitive bias that contributes towards a tendency to notice and dwell on negative information while neglecting positive information.

What Is a Negativity Bias?

Negativity bias can affect decisions, emotions, and even the ability to take in information. Several studies show that humans tend to pay attention more readily to negative information. A person is more likely to notice a car wreck on one side of the road than, for example, a person helping someone to repair a flat tyre on the other side of the road. Negativity bias also helps to explain why people tend to be more reactive toward criticism than they are uplifted by compliments.

Why Does the Negativity Bias Exist?

Researchers do not know why the negativity bias exists. Some argue that the negativity bias is an innate mechanism, others emphasize the impact of cultural norms increasing the likelihood that people notice negative information. Some potential reasons for the negativity bias include:

Negativity Bias and Mental Health

The implications of the negativity bias for mental health are clear and striking. Rumination – the process of lingering on information – over negative information can increase the likelihood that a person develops depression. People who do not notice positive stimuli or who tend to talk about negative occurrences more readily than positive ones are more likely to struggle with unhappiness, depression, and anxiety. A person’s negativity bias can partially be a product of personality and deliberate thought retraining, and people who do not have a strong negativity bias tend to be happier, better-adjusted, and more well-liked.


  1.     Hanson, R., Ph.D. (2010, October 08). Confronting the negativity bias. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  2.     Negativity bias. (n.d.). The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Retrieved from
  3.     Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(3), 504-511. doi: 10.1037//0021-843X.109.3.504