Why Does Our Brain Focus On Negatives?

Simple happiness formulas often don’t work because our brain is programmed to deal with negative things to ensure our survival.
Why does our brain focus on negatives?

We see problems but no solutions, we remember traumatic events but forget pleasant moments, focus on threats instead of recognizing opportunities … Our brains are programmed to concentrate on negative things. 

Our catastrophic brain prefers danger and difficulty and is always on the lookout for problems. From an evolutionary point of view, it is an automatism that was of great importance for human survival in order to recognize dangers and threats. Even today, this ability helps us to react quickly in emergency situations.

In terms of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which teaches us that only the most adapted individuals survive, we know that success is only possible if we listen to our fear instincts and react flexibly in order to adapt to the environment. Our brains are not focused on negatives to block or immobilize us. It enables us to react quickly to challenges and to draw up an action plan to ensure our survival.

Why does our brain focus on negatives?

Why our brains focus on negatives

It would be wonderful if we could easily implement comments like “focus on positive things and don’t think about sad things all the time”. It would certainly be an advantage if, after a difficult experience, we could direct our eyes to the hopeful future and overcome negativity. However, our brain does not follow these patterns. It doesn’t care if we are happy or not as it is programmed solely for our survival. 

Imagine driving your car to work in the morning and having to react unexpectedly quickly at an intersection to avoid colliding with another car. Even if nothing happens, you will remember this experience. You will try to act more prudently to consciously avoid risk. 

Research from Ohio State University confirms that our brains focus on negatives based on an experiment: Study participants remembered a photo of an injured couple in a difficult position better than a photo of a kissing couple. In the event of negative events, greater electrical activity is registered in the brain, which also affects memory.

Focus on the negatives to learn

You can learn from positive experiences,  but negative events that allow you to develop further are particularly striking. If something is causing you pain, you will do whatever you can to avoid it. An experience that brings more costs than benefits will shape your behavior particularly strongly. You therefore have to spend more energy in order to correctly guide your behavior and your decisions in this situation.

The brain is programmed to focus on negatives as it has to adapt to an increasingly complex environment. We inherited this instinct from our ancestors, who had to face a variety of aversive stimuli to ensure their survival. 

From survival instinct to negativity bias

The University of Pennsylvania conducted an interesting study in early 2000. It showed that the classic survival instinct, which was fundamental in the past, is no longer equally effective today. We are no longer exposed to so many dangers, but our brain is still programmed for it.

The negativity bias, which means that negative thoughts or experiences have a stronger impact than positive ones, often allows us to perceive risks and threats that are not even there. Our brain is very sensitive and not always able to differentiate between neutral and dangerous stimuli. Because of this, we are at risk of developing worry, stress, or anxiety.

The  negativity effect has a particularly strong impact on socially anxious people,  because they concentrate on supposed mistakes and negative reactions, underestimate their own achievements and make wrong value judgments about themselves and others.

Why does the amygdala hold on to fear?

The machinery that regulates a good part of our emotions and motivations is based on a small region of the brain called the amygdala. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, who teaches and researches at the University of California, suggests that this structure uses about two-thirds of neurons to detect negativity and then quickly store it in long-term memory.

The energy, resources and structures that the brain uses to process negative stimuli and experiences is remarkable.

Why does our brain focus on negatives?

How can we break the negativity effect?

We know that the brain is programmed to focus on negatives. But is it possible to deactivate this negativity or to reprogram ourselves so as not to focus primarily on irrational dangers? Can we learn to turn off the disaster thinking that fuels fear and stress?

The answer to this question is complicated. The negativity bias has a specific function, namely to ensure survival. It is important to recognize risks in everyday life and to adjust our behavior accordingly in order to be prepared for a wide variety of events.

The key, however, is balance. If you only focus on fear and see yourself in constant danger, you will not be able to enjoy your life. Therefore, learn to focus your attention on positive things that bring you satisfaction. Don’t get carried away by those thoughts that don’t get you anywhere. Try to make it positive and overcome your fears.

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