Open Mind: Negativity bias

I attended a webinar the other day about the effects of the pandemic on our mental health and effectiveness as health care/front line workers.

It was called “Navigating through the fog, thinking Clearly in times of crisis” and presented by Diana Tikasz with the TEND academy.

One of the concepts presented that might help us understand ourselves a bit better is that we are all “hard wired” to have a negativity bias. This means that we recognize the danger or negativity in situations almost instantly, but it takes us more time, about 20 seconds, to be more intentional in seeing the positives in a situation.

People can be really quick to focus on what’s wrong, identify flaws or make negative comments rather than to say something nice or positive. Have you ever been in this situation? The first time you hear a news story or are in a conversation about things, is your first response negative or sarcastic?

Sarcasm can be a reflection of a negative state of mind. When sarcastic comments come to our minds we need to be aware that they might be a negative deflection strategy.  We can still say them … sometimes it feels good, but be aware that these kinds of comments may be coming from our negative thoughts.

It’s an indication that perhaps we need time to heal, come up with some more positive thoughts, or retreat to a more healthful space.

A conscious effort to recognize and change our thinking is difficult, but often worth the effort to enhance our clarity and problem solving abilities. Mindfulness about positives in your life and being grateful for good things in your life can have a beneficial effect.

This phenomenon of negative thoughts first is not a character flaw. It is actually part of our natural ancestral make up. Thousands of years ago, as humankind was developing, negative thinking in situations helped identify danger and what could go wrong so that people could react quickly and live.  Negative hardwiring became part of our DNA.

Interesting to consider. The problems then were straight forward, focused on survival. One thing to do. Today staying in that negative frame of mind creates the perpetuation of the “brain fog” in complex situations. You can’t see options. If you continually mull over why things are wrong or unfair or bad, you can’t plan for good creative options.

We strive for more positive attitudes and positive outlook. Seeing the good in people and situations rather than only negative creates better and more supportive relationships. It is healthier for our minds and bodies as well, bringing with it a sense of calm and peace.

All of this taught me that once we are aware of our negative thoughts about a situation we can intentionally take time to find the positive. We do better when we can move past the negative and be creative about options and learn to think more clearly.

As we evolve we learn that there is time to be aware, and time to be kinder and gentler to ourselves and others.

Try it for yourselves.  Next time negative thoughts come to you about a situation or a person, take some time.  Process what is going on and try to say something positive or supportive. New solutions may be on the horizon.

Paula Frappier is community education coordinator with Homewood Health Centre and CMHA. The Open Mind column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Paula Frappier