When The Negativity Bias Is At Play

During the years of raising children, my family watched a lot of basketball. Allan Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers delighted us with his moves to the basket and tenacious urge to win.

While reading about him going into the Basketball Hall of Fame, I got taken by the words of fellow player, Aaron McKie.

"Nowadays, especially with social media, people just put things out with nothing fact-based behind it. I learned a long time ago: Check the facts. Get to know somebody first."

Reminiscing about first learning that he'd play in Philadelphia, McKie recalls, "I didn't know much about Philly, but what I did know was bad. I was going to a losing team." The reality of the situation was way more hopeful than his automatic self-talk had allowed him. From the very first day, life on the team was exciting, inspiring and fun. His new coach, Larry Brown, turned out to be adept at generating synergy and skill in a team.

"That trade taught me a lesson I still think about to this day. All of my preconceptions about the 76ers -- and AI -- were based off of public perception. Rumors. Hearsay. I didn't know those guys at all. I had been tripped up by the same media perceptions that I disliked."

All of us get swayed by negative messages sent our way. We are at a disadvantage in this domain, given that the average American is exposed to at least 3000 advertising messages a day. Whether it be about what product we need to have, what body shape and size we need to be, we're bombarded with messages that lean us toward the negative end of the spectrum, inciting more hesitation and distrust rather than relaxation and trust.

When it comes to how we think about others, even ourselves, it's useful to know that the negativity bias is at play. McKie's personal comments are a good reminder to question the credibility of the stories we hold to be truths. The inner storyteller doesn't fact check, doesn't question and doesn't doubt about whether it's right or wrong. When we pause, and interrupt the automatic stimulus-response cycle of our thinking, we can ask: is this fact or fiction, is this based on what I feel, is this based on what I heard? With this type of conversation, we're no longer living in the auto-reaction mode and, we're much more likely, to no longer be living in the negative storyline.

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