Have you ever wondered why negative stuff tends to stick with us more than positive? You can blame evolution on this one!  Our brains are naturally inclined to focus on negativity—a phenomenon known as the negativity bias. We’ll explore this intriguing topic further, to understand how our brains have developed a bias towards danger.

The Negativity Bias: Evolutionarily Wired for Stress

Life kind of sucked for our ancestors.  At any moment, it was likely that you could become a hungry animal’s lunch.  To ensure survival, our brains developed a natural inclination to prioritize these types of threatening negative experiences.  This bias played a crucial role in keeping our ancestors alive by heightening their awareness of potential risks in their surroundings.  Even though today we aren’t likely to get eaten by a tiger on a daily basis in today’s world, our evolutionary brains haven’t got the memo.  That nasty email from your boss?  As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a tiger.   Turns out, evolution doesn’t care if we are happy, just that we stay alive.

The Amygdala: An Almond-Sized Jerk

At the core of the negativity bias lies an almond-sized structure in our brain called the amygdala. Acting as our brain’s fear detector, the amygdala constantly scans our environment for potential threats. When it perceives danger, it triggers an immediate response, preparing our bodies for fight, flight, or freeze reactions. This rapid response helped our ancestors navigate hazardous situations, improving their chances of survival.  Today, it sometimes keeps us from getting hit by a bus, but mostly, it just makes us miserable.

Cortisol: Bummer Fuel

When the amygdala detects a threat, it initiates the release of stress hormones, including cortisol. Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol affects various parts of the brain, including the pre-frontal cortex; intensifying the negativity bias. It heightens our vigilance towards negative stimuli while dampening the processing of positive experiences. This bias reinforced by cortisol perpetuates the cycle of negativity in our minds.  So basically, you release cortisol, which makes you more sensitive to and less able to dispose of it….which leads to…you guessed it!  More cortisol!! This brutal cycle is part of what makes it so hard to shake it off when something bad happens.

Implications for Well-being and Happiness

So, while all of this was great for keeping our ancestors alive, it can have doesn’t do much for our well-being and happiness in modern life. Negative events or comments are sticky and create a lasting impact on our memory. This tendency can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and a distorted perception of reality.

Overcoming the Negativity Bias

So, at this point, you might be saying, “Jesus, Dave, your blog post itself is a bummer.”  But I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that!  There’s good news!   Although the negativity bias is deeply ingrained, we possess the ability to overcome its influence and create a happier outlook.  We can literally rewire our brains!  There’s no quick fix here. It takes work and perseverance.  By engaging in a specific practice that trains your mind through the recognition, enhancement, and immersion into positive experiences, we create new neural pathways that with practice become permanent.  Of course, you will still have negative thoughts and experiences. But by consciously focusing on positive thoughts, emotions, and experiences, we can gradually shift our brain’s attention away from the negativity bias and foster a more positive outlook on life.


Understanding the power of negativity bias and its evolutionary roots sheds light on why we tend to be drawn to negative experiences. Armed with this knowledge, we can take proactive steps to counteract the bias and nurture a more positive mindset. By intentionally rewiring our brains to focus on the positive aspects of life, we can unlock greater well-being, happiness, and resilience in our daily lives.