#30in30 – Your Brain tends to look on the dark side of life

Due to a millennia of natural selection, our brain has developed into a highly functional survival organ. It protects our consciousness from everything that might erase the bright light of our very own personality. Part of this may be a consequence of the brain’s tendency to react stronger to negative, rather than positive, stimuli.

“Over and over,” psychologist Jonathan Haidt told the New York Times, “the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.”

This “negativity bias” impacts our life in every dimension. For example, maybe we remember the old lady from our childhood who was always complaining about how we once damaged her window with a football, even though we watched over her cats numerous times. Negativity bias can even affect marriages, which requires that both partners maintain a good balance of positive and negative feelings towards each other in order to develop a strong relationship. Charting the amount of couples fighting against positive interaction, researchers have found that the ratio between positive and negative stimuli for a healthy relationship is five to one, and not an expected equilibrium of 50-50.

People are more likely to evaluate a doctor online when they want to complain about something rather than when they are completely pleased with their treatment. You should consider applying this thought to your legal profession as well. You cannot fulfill your client’s wishes every time. But, as shown in marriages, to balance a negative event you do not need a huge win, e.g. a won trial, but little positive and frequent steps instead. Additionally, you might want to ensure that the client fully understands and realizes your work. On the other hand, a single negative input can trigger the client into entering a more aggressive form of goal achieving. In divorce mediation it might be a lot harder to progress towards a well-calibrated settlement as long as the parties overly focus on the negative aspects.

Negativity bias, likewise, impacts the communication with your clients and co-workers. As a 21st century legal professional, most of your is likely through email. Daniel Coleman states in his book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights” that there is even a negativity bias in emails. This leads to the email receiver thinking the tone of a mail was neutral, even though the sender intended to phrase it positive. On the other hand, an intended neutral email will likely be confused as tending towards a negative tone. Interestingly, this effect disappears when the sender and the receiver know each other well. Thus, we should try to focus more on personal communication forms, such as meetings or conference calls, before communicating with emails.

For your personal life you can start with focusing on all of the positive aspects by writing down everything you are feeling grateful for, or take five minutes off from work to enjoy a piece of chocolate while imaging yourself at a nice place you have visited before. Shawn Anchor, psychologist and CEO of Good Think Inc., even found evidence that a more positive attitude towards life makes us more productive.


(Picture courtesy of Pixabay)