It seems that for all of the positive experiences we have throughout our lives, we tend to harp on and recall more easily the few negative (failure, sickness, death) memories we’ve had. The old adage of “Don’t dwell on the negative” is almost impossible considering our human nature to do just that. I think that as students we can relate to this concept in an academic way. For instance, if your professor returns your exam and you didn’t do as well as you had hoped, you tend to let that thought linger longer despite getting a near perfect score on the past exams or assignments in the same course. Are people innately negative? What is the mechanism behind why the majority of us obsess over the few negative events?
Ohio State University (OSU) conducted an experiment in 1998 that sought to find a conclusion about negativity bias and how (if at all) it affects our ability to make evaluations. They used 25 OSU male undergraduates for this study. I would classify this as an experime
ntal study because the 25 students were connected to EEGs (machines that measure brain activity) and presented various pictures, of which the subjects gave reactions. The procedure consisted of the students being shown 36 pictures classified as “neutral” (these served as the control photos), two pictures classified as “positive” and two pictures classified as “negative.” It is also worth noting that the positive and negative pictures were extreme in their affects. Meaning that the positive pictures were of children riding a rollercoaster, a bowl of ice-cream, and pizza, whereas the negative photos were of a dead cat and a body of a decaying cow. The combination of pictures (random) was done in groups of five at a time. The electrical impulses of each student were recorded for each picture that was shown on the computer screen. The results of the experiments concluded that although the positive and negative pictures yielded high levels of arousal in comparison to the neutral photos, the negative stimuli produced more arousal in the brains of the subjects. From this study, it can be concluded that negative stimuli have a greater impact on our minds than positive stimuli. It’s important to know that the negative and positive stimuli show up in the same areas of the brain so there is no error coming from the calculating of comparisons between one part of the brain that registers pleasure from another that registers pain/discomfort, etcetera. This study has an equal number of positive and negative photos and so it’s possible that the results could vary if there is an unequal ratio of positive to negative photos. There could be a difference if the subjects were group of co-eds and not just men. And although this study contributes to the argument that negative stimuli is more potent to our brains, it doesn’t explain why.
I found a scientific review which asserts that bad memories and experiences overpower good or pleasant memories and experiences. They give a hypothesis as to why they believe unpleasant memories create more of a lasting impact on the human mind. The scientists stated that human beings dwelling on negative events could be an adaptive behavior. Their reasoning behind this thought is that our ancestors who were more conscious of the dangers in their environment were better equipped to avoid them and thus carry on their genes. They further went on to justify their hypothesis by stating that if a person were to disregard a threatening situation (even just once) it can yield severe harm or possibly death. But, if a person were to ignore signs of positive opportunities will miss out on added reward or satisfaction and be unharmed. I think that this theory could help to explain why our brains (and those in the aforementioned study) have more activity when we so much as see something that is negative (dangerous, repulsive, scary). Being mindful and remembering the “bad” could be an instinctive reaction, a survival tactic, so that we can ensure our vitality.