The 'Negativity Effect' Leads to Bad Journalism, Big Government, and Busted Relationships

John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister want to defeat The Power of Bad.


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It's not just in your head: When it comes to how we all experience life, "Bad is generally stronger than good." 

We remember trauma more than joy, we're brought down by criticism more than we're elevated by praise, and we pay more attention to bad news than good. 

A new book called The Power of Bad, by journalist John Tierney and psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, explores "the negativity effect," or the "universal tendency for negative events and emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones." The negativity effect shapes everything we do, from our personal relationships to our careers to how we vote to what media we consume.

But The Power of Bad isn't one more cause for despair. Its subtitle is How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It, and it offers practical tips on all sorts of ways to approach life so that we can be happy, productive, and well-adjusted.

Nick Gillespie sat down with Tierney, a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal and a former New York Times columnist and reporter, to talk about the root causes of the negativity effect and how to combat it.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Intro by Meredith Bragg. Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander.

NEXT: The 2010s: When the Media Lost Their Gatekeepers

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  1. I don't believe we do remember trauma more than joy. I remember good things much more; I can dredge up bad memories if someone reminds me, but they seldom arise on their own.

    1. I'm the inverse.

  2. Negative stories affect us more than positive ones because bad things happening are worse than the good things are good. Rarely does a good news story render bad news irrelevant. But bad news can often render good things irrelevant. It is why people are naturally risk adverse.

      1. That is right. You have pot and free porn. Stop complaining about everything else.

    1. I agree with the idea that "if it bleeds, it leads", but I think this is what the market place wants and is not indicative that people remember bad memories more than they remember good ones.

      I think we like bad news because it makes us feel better about our lives, which does not necessarily indicate we remember bad things more than good things.

      In fact, I'll go further and say if the average human was a pessimist who consistently thought about bad things over good things, we would've been wiped out 250k years ago. Only optimism and denial can take a failed big game hint which kills many hunters in a single tribe to continue forward.

      IE: evolution points more towards ignoring or displacing bad news is better than internalizing it in memoriam.

  3. "The 'Negativity Effect' Leads to Bad Journalism...."

    And a perfect example of this effect can be seen in the Latest feed just below this article, where Binion and Dhalmia offer up an innuendo-filled smear job about Stephen Miller.

    When you start with the assumption that everyone you disagree with is racist, then don't be surprised if you find racism everywhere you look.

    1. Except that in the case of Stephen Miller, his emails prove definitively that's he's a racist.

      1. Do you have a link to the raw emails?

      2. No they don't. Show me the emails that do that because I haven't seen any.

        1. I assumed not, but thought I'd try to test whether they did.

      3. Wait, did you find the raw emails? Finally, someone can link to the actual emails

        Please link when you have the chance.

      4. Except that in the case of Stephen Miller, his emails prove definitively that’s he’s a racist.

        'Majority Muslim Nations delineated by a previous administration' racist or racist racist?

        Personally, I'm *still* disappointed that my investments in cattle car manufacturers isn't paying off. I was promised by people who weren't Trump that there would be brown people in cattle cars.

      5. So still no links to actual emails?

      6. And in the case of your retarded fact-free regurgitated shit tier opinions copped from Democratic Underground, they prove definitively that you're so fucking stupid you should be supervised to make sure you don't hurt yourself with a spork.

    2. And a perfect example of this effect can be seen in the Latest feed just below this article, where Binion and Dhalmia offer up an innuendo-filled smear job about Stephen Miller.

      When you start with the assumption that everyone you disagree with is racist, then don’t be surprised if you find racism everywhere you look.

      It's not their fault! The Negativity Affect made them publish poorly-substantiated, defamatory remarks that support their pre-existing narrative.

  4. We remember trauma more than joy, we're brought down by criticism more than we're elevated by praise, and we pay more attention to bad news than good.

    No, we’re told constantly about all the bad things happening and rarely about the good. When all you see on the TV is bad news, it’s going to color your view of the world. Having one 20 second fluffy puppy story at the end of 29 minutes of rape, murder, and war doesn’t really do anything.

    1. This side steps *lots* of agency. First, somebody chooses which news gets reported and which news doesn't. That person/those people have to have some pretty inherent flaws to choose to broadcast doom, gloom, and gore 29.66 min. out of 30. Second, the consumer opts to consume the whole 30 min. start to finish. The fact that they choose to watch the doom, gloom, and gore and pad it with 20 s of fluff speaks to their flawed choices. Third, the person conducting the study chooses to see all of the above as inherent bad flaws that inexorably lead to some disfavorable outcome is displaying their own biases.

      The top 2 genres in the performing arts (individually and summarily) are drama and comedy. Fiction overwhelmingly outweighs non-fiction and even in non-fiction, neutral or positive messages prevail (e.g. views of news/political videos are absolutely dwarfed by makeup and beauty how-tos on YouTube). The idea that we are passively consuming negative messages and overcoming our ability to reason rather than challenging ourselves through fictional representations and learning about ourselves is a selectively negative interpretation.

      1. No no no. Everything is so terrible and unfair.

    2. Sticking your head up your ass and pretending that the good outweighs the bad is a good way to become an ignorant simpleton, but hey, if you makes you happy, they say ignorance is bliss.

  5. Does this mean Nick will offer a positive article about Trump in 202?

  6. Negativity effect... like markets imploding?

  7. I haven't done any studies but between the Negativity Affect and Affirmation Bias, I'm pretty sure that the media and government are just genuinely shitty.

    Sometimes the Universe conspires against you but, sometimes, the problem isn't the rest of the Universe.

  8. Negativity bias is the fundamental flaw in universal democracy. When all the regular people can vote, and are subject to the constant apocalyptic messages from candidates (and their media fellow travelers), they can't help but elect demagogues.

    When was the last time we had anyone approaching a statesman in a national office?

  9. Reason at 10 AM:

    Reason at 10:01 AM:

    1. Legitimately and sincerely, I hope the authors of this piece contract the most debilitatingly painful, agonizing, soul-destroying illness imaginable, and then have to face it in the socialized medical system they champion, laying there like a common fucking serf next to some HIV-infected border jumping beaner on his 13th taxpayer-funded ICU visit of the month. Go live like the people who you wouldn't piss on if they were on fire while you lecture them about how real fucking life is merely a carefully constructed illusion.


    “‘Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold,’ Duffey wrote in that email, which has only been made available in redacted form until now and was not handed over to House investigators conducting the impeachment inquiry into the President, according to Just Security.”

    1. Hey neutral mikey is back with an already debunked story. OMB already responded with an email that the process of the holds the email mentions started weeks prior as part of a standard process. The emails show similar requests for lebanon and other countries as well, but democrats cherry picked just that email. Congrats mikey, you're a useful idiot falling for a debunked narrative.

      The email is literally a DNC talking point neutral mikey.

    2. I mean, just think how stupid you have to be to believe this. First you have to believe correlation always equals causation. Then you have to ignore the weeks prior to the email where the OMB had already held up aid in review. Youd have to ignore reviews on every other country. Youd have to ignore the transcript of the actual telephone call. And youd have to believe that as soon as trump hung up he started making calls to lower level OMB staffers to speed up a hold on funds that were already on hold for review.

      I mean come on neutral mikey... you're not that dumb are you?

      1. "I mean, just think how stupid you have to be to believe this..."

        We don't have to; Mike shows up and gives us a demonstration.

  11. Pop psychology meets pop pol sci.

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  13. Interesting how energy plays out with positive and negative news. If you are down about something, you might not have the energy to take on daily tasks, but then upon receiving personally excellent news, your batteries get charged, and you have the energy to do what you have to do and more.

  14. When you make a mistake, learn from it. That requires some bad feeling, at least, about the mistake you made so that you are motivated not to make the same mistake again. You will still make other mistakes but fewer as you grow older and wiser.

  15. Yes, You're right. But Question is from where came negativity?
    That need to find out work on it.

  16. It is true that sometimes bad things bring good positivity in your life. We need to learn from other mistakes in spite of doing the same mistake.

  17. it really true need to know all response from all activity.

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