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April 17, 2024

Episode 25: Confirmation Bias and Negativity Bias

In this episode, Pam and Sarah discuss the cognitive biases of negativity bias and confirmation bias. They explain how these biases work together to create a powerful feedback loop, leading to negative thinking and confirmation-seeking behavior. The negativity bias is the tendency to give more weight to negative information, while confirmation bias is the tendency to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs. These biases are rooted in evolutionary survival mechanisms and can have a significant impact on our daily lives.


  • Negativity bias is the tendency to give more weight to negative information, while confirmation bias is the tendency to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs.
  • These biases work together to create a powerful feedback loop, leading to negative thinking and confirmation-seeking behavior.
  • The negativity bias is rooted in evolutionary survival mechanisms, as our brains are wired to pay more attention to threats and potential harm.
  • Awareness of these biases can help us recognize and mitigate their impact in our daily lives, leading to more positive and balanced thinking. Negativity bias and confirmation bias can have a significant impact on our thoughts and actions.
  • These biases can stall progress in various areas of life, such as public speaking, creative pursuits, and health goals.
  • Negative feedback can have a lasting impact and hinder personal and professional growth.
  • To mitigate the impact of these biases, it is important to practice mindfulness, seek diverse perspectives, and cultivate a gratitude practice.
  • Challenging automatic thoughts and building awareness are key to counteracting these biases.

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This transcript was generated by AI so please ignore any weird errors. If there is anything really terrible, let us know.

[00:00:00] Pam: When we were planning last week’s episode about the sunk cost fallacy, I joked that it was one of my favorite cognitive biases to talk about. And that kind of started a conversation about what other biases could we talk about and kind of do a series on because they are such a powerful thing that happens to our brains and they, they affect everyone.

They are, um, just inherent. They’re happening constantly, whether you know about it or not. So we thought that it would be really interesting to sort of do a series on some of the more powerful and prevalent cognitive biases that are affecting all of us all the time. And the first idea that we had was talking about two of them, which are negativity bias and confirmation bias and what each of those is, but then how they work together to create a really powerful feedback loop and how that can affect you.

So that’s what we’re going to do today. Um, as I mentioned, these cognitive biases are just inherent aspects of human psychology. They affect everyone. Some people to greater degrees or, or less, but, but these are like rules of our brains.

[00:01:20] Sarah: They are rules. And I was familiar with both concepts, um, both biases, I should say, as concepts. I mean, I use the terms myself in my everyday language, But until I started preparing for this episode, I didn’t realize, uh, how interconnected these two are. You know, these guys partner up and, um, impact us in a powerful way, so it was pretty interesting doing the research.

[00:01:50] Pam: Yeah. They… it really can be so powerful and we’re going to talk about what each one is, but the reason that we wanted to talk about how they work together is because they create this feedback loop where you get negative information and then believe that, and then you seek confirmation that the negative information is correct.

So it creates this loop where you can really get, really low self esteem.

[00:02:19] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:02:20] Pam: You can, um, start to see the world in really negative ways. You can give up on dreams.

[00:02:30] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:02:31] Pam: You could, um, go down rabbit holes and start believing increasingly, you know, intense or bizarre things like conspiracy theories.

[00:02:41] Sarah: for sure.

[00:02:42] Pam: It really just creates this powerful loop of like getting information, seeking to confirm that information, and then digging in even deeper and deeper and deeper until you kind of don’t even know how to get out of it.

[00:02:56] Sarah: Yeah. And I think I love that you explained it that way because I think it’s that sort of loop nature that makes it so interesting and so important to shine a light on today because it’s not like a one and done thing. The whole nature of it is that you’re constantly seeking more thoughts to validate that one thought that’s making you think something bad.

Right? So it’s not like it doesn’t end. It’s a spiral that goes on and on.

[00:03:23] Pam: And we’ve talked before about how much that our brain does is habit,

[00:03:28] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:03:29] Pam: so this loop can become a habit. You can get into this cycle where you see or hear negative information, you believe it, you seek to confirm it, and that is your new operating system. That is just, you know, how your brain works because it’s already built to work that way, but then by, by reinforcing it and by doing it regularly, you, you grease that groove and it’s more likely to happen.

[00:03:58] Sarah: yeah. So, let’s try and stop that.

[00:04:03] Pam: So do you want to talk us through what you learned about negativity bias?

[00:04:06] Sarah: Sure. So, yeah, as, as Pam mentioned, we’re gonna start by defining each one. Negativity bias, and then confirmation bias. We’re gonna talk about how they work together, talk about some of the manifestations that we experience in our own lives and that we see in the world around us. And then of course, we’ll end with some suggestions as to how to mitigate this tendency.

Uh, all right, starting out with negativity bias. This is a cognitive tendency to give more weight to the negative versus the positive. So a common example of this is asking someone, well, how was your day today? And they say, well, it was good, except for that one, you know, when I waited in line at lunch, and then they didn’t have what I wanted.

Um, and in fact, this individual may have had a great day. Um, 29 of the items on their list were positive or neutral, and there was one thing, the lunch disappointment, but that’s the thing that stands out in their memory. So that’s an example. Or another example is, um. Giving a presentation and, um, the large majority, let’s say nine out of the 10 people give you positive feedback.

And one person says, well, actually, I think you could work on X because he seemed a little robotic. And then you’re just holding onto that one robotic comment. You forget about the nine compliments you received, and you’re really just giving weight to that one negative comment and you can’t let it go.

You’re overly focusing on it.

[00:05:47] Pam: Yeah, and it can also play out, um, like if you are scrolling social media or looking at the news, you’ll skip 10 positive things or neutral things and then react to, or pay more attention to the negative headline or, you know, the person who’s complaining or gossiping. We’re just drawn to the negative.

[00:06:09] Sarah: We are drawn to the negative. Yeah. I mean, I, I’m thinking of, um, uh, when we’re driving on the highway and my kids are always marveling at the fact, you know, how the traffic will stop because people will stop to look at an accident or the, you know, the debris after an accident, and it will cause a 20 minute, 30 minute delay.

And it’s just, people stop to look, and there’s not even anything major to look at more, more often than not. And yet people are drawn to seeing something negative.

[00:06:41] Pam: I think about that at the airport because people get so angry about, lines at security or, you know, whatever is bothering them when they’re traveling. And I’m like, we are getting in a tin can and flying. That’s so cool. And you’re just in such a bad mood because you had to stand in line.

[00:07:04] Sarah: It’s so true. People love complaining at the airport. And what do you expect? We know there’s long lines by now.

[00:07:09] Pam: Right.

[00:07:10] Sarah: It’s a documented fact.

[00:07:14] Pam: Okay. So why are we drawn to the negative? Why is this, um, the way that our brain works? And, um, the theory is that it’s, it’s evolutionary that, you know, we are, our brains really are still the brains that we had when we were in danger of being eaten by a lion. So we pay more attention to threats, and to potential harm because the danger in ignoring the threats was, you know, death or, physical harm or, um, starvation or, many, many bad things that are much worse could happen if you ignore the negative than the positive things that would happen if you focus on the good things that are happening.

So it’s a survival mechanism,

[00:08:06] Sarah: And this statistic is, um, really salient for me that research shows that we need actually 10 pieces of positive news, uh, just to counter one piece of negative news. So it’s a scale of 10 to 1. That’s how hardwired it is. It’s not that we’re not necessarily Debbie Downers or super negative. It’s just our brain is wired that way, that we need 10 pieces of positive to counteract one piece of negative because we want to preserve ourselves and we want to be safe.

It comes from that place.

[00:08:41] Pam: Yep and those negative pieces of information are anything that happens throughout your day. So, if you think about, you know, gossip or even it could even be something that you think happened that maybe didn’t. Like your, your spouse looked at you in a way that you th think was a negative, and they actually weren’t even paying attention.

[00:09:09] Sarah: Yes.

[00:09:10] Pam: So we’re constantly bombarded by tons of negative information, perceived or, or real. And even if they’re small, they have such an outweighed impact on our psychology, on our brains, on our happiness.

[00:09:27] Sarah: Yeah. On our mood and our, on our impression of what’s actually going on in our vibes. Yeah. So that’s negativity bias.

[00:09:37] Pam: But it’s, it’s also a little bit even more, um, insidious because not only do we pay more attention to the negative, but then we discount the positive.

[00:09:48] Sarah: Mm.

[00:09:49] Pam: So even if you’re getting equal positive, or you’re getting those 10 pieces of positive information to counteract the one negative. Our brains will go, yeah, but that like, who said, who gave me that compliment?

And you know, do I really trust that? Or like, Oh, that’s not real. So we automatically believe the negative and then we, we are critical of the positive. So it’s, it’s not only a bias that we’re paying more attention to the negative, it’s that we’re discounting the positive. So it’s, it has a huge, huge impact.

[00:10:26] Sarah: Yeah, you’re right. And, um, last comment about this. I heard, I heard a metaphor before that brings that to life, which is when we receive a piece of positive news or a compliment, it can roll off of us like water off of a duck’s back. Whereas the negative, um, real or perceived negative, um, will stick to us like a Velcro.

[00:10:51] Pam: So then confirmation bias is where we actively seek information that confirms an opinion or a belief that we already have and causes us to disregard information that contradicts what we believe. So we will, um, go out of our way to find things that reinforce what we’re, what we’re already thinking.

And we may not even realize that we’re doing it. Like if you go searching for information about something, you know, you’ll go to Google and like type in like, why is chewing gum bad for you instead of like, is chewing gum bad for you? Right. Cause you’re seeking, like, if you already believe that the chewing gum is bad, you’re going to go and you’re going to look for more information about why chewing gum is bad.

[00:11:43] Sarah: Yeah, exactly. And, and you can even, I’ll even catch myself when I’m doing a Google search, kind of ignoring the articles I don’t want to read about that topic, because it’s giving me a contrary opinion,

[00:11:58] Pam: Yes.

[00:11:59] Sarah: right? So I, I recently, an example is I recently decided that I wanted to create… As you know, I’ve been into gardening and last year I did all wildflowers, native pollinators.

Then I decided this year I’m going to expand and I’m going to have a cut garden for myself. So I’ve been researching different ways I can do that. Can I get a raised garden bed? And then I was researching, um, Will Dahlias thrive in a raised garden bed? And anyone told me that they didn’t. I’m like, yeah, screw you.

I’m going to the next article because I don’t want to believe this information, right?

[00:12:36] Pam: Yes.

[00:12:37] Sarah: So I purposely read the articles that told me what I wanted to hear. Then I went out and I ordered the garden bed and all the beautiful Dahlia tubers to create this experience. Thanks to my research.

[00:12:49] Pam: Oh, that’s so funny. Yeah. And we do that all the time. And it’s so funny that we even go through that theater of doing the research when it’s like, it does not matter.

[00:13:01] Sarah: It’s so true. And also, we hear of people who, when they are met with opposing views, can actually double down on their pre existing beliefs.

[00:13:12] Pam: Yeah. So we do this not only when we’re seeking information actively, but it’s just sort of how we start to live our lives, right? You read the news that reinforces your political beliefs, or, um, you, you know, have friends who have the same beliefs that you do. So you’re never really challenged in conversation.

Um, you know, we, we just gravitate towards people and information that reinforces our stories about ourselves and about the world and what we want to believe. And so we can kind of get into this information bubble

[00:13:52] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:13:53] Pam: of only hearing what we want to hear.

[00:13:56] Sarah: Yeah. And I think the two examples are salient because on the one hand we can have, and we’re going to go into some more examples, but fairly harmless ones. You know, I get the garden better, I don’t. This is fairly low stakes, um, example of, of the bias at work. And then we can have, uh, an impact which is far more significant, which is our news sources.

Yes. Right, and getting into that echo chamber, um, of only sort of hearing one perspective and there can be obviously huge implications to, to that way of, of reading or, or learning.

[00:14:37] Pam: Okay. So when these two biases conspire together, what happens is you get this, negative information,

[00:14:48] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:14:49] Pam: and then you Seek more information that confirms that negative thing that you just heard, which seems crazy. Like, why would I go to the effort to confirm something negative about myself? But it is what happens because this is what our brains are doing.

They’re saying, okay, I heard this bad thing. Um, this is danger. You know, this, I got this information that, um, you know, if I continue doing this thing or that there’s, there’s this thing that’s bad about me. And so I’m in danger if I don’t fix that. So let me, let me confirm that that’s true. Let me go get all the other examples of that being true so that I can be safe.

And it can come up in really silly ways. Um, uh, an example that I thought of is when I’m looking for a movie to watch, I will go like, I’ll find a movie and be like, okay, I watched the preview. It looks okay. Let me go read the reviews. And so, you know, search the movie and start reading the reviews. And there’s like a couple that are like, Oh yeah, this was fun or I liked this.

And then there’s one like scathing review that it’s the worst movie they’ve ever seen in their lives. And it was such a waste of time. And I’m like, Oh yeah, this movie is probably terrible then. And then. Then I will go and look for more reviews that are also bad. It’s like

[00:16:13] Sarah: You want to validate your decision.

[00:16:16] Pam: Right. Now I’m convincing myself to not watch this movie that I five minutes ago wanted to watch, even though there were 10 positive reviews and two negative ones. Like I go, Oh, yeah, This person who left the negative review is clearly smarter and has better taste than the 10 people that left positive reviews. And that’s such a silly example, but I think it’s one that we can probably all relate to in some way. And it just, it just gives an example of the way that loop works.

[00:16:49] Sarah: for sure. And it’s silly. And also at the same time, it, it is impacting your life. It has the impact of A), you might miss out on a great experience of watching something that you get something out of that you enjoy, that you learn something from, that you’re moved by. I mean, who knows? So you’re stopping yourself from having that experience.

And secondly, if you do choose to watch it, but you’re going in with that loop you’re like looking for, Oh yeah, that acting was bad or that wasn’t a bad scene or whatever it is, you’re looking for evidence as you’re watching it that in fact you were right all along and you shouldn’t be watching it. And so then that’s taking away from your ability to just sit down and enjoy it because you’re scanning for the problems with the film. We have an awareness of that in our family and, um, it actually, we have a term for that, which is don’t yuck my yum. And it came from when my kids were little in daycare and they learned this expression. And they’re from their daycare teachers that when somebody likes something, don’t tell, when somebody thinks, you know, the pear or whatever is yummy, don’t tell them it’s bad because then you’re making them feel bad about what they like.

And we still do it as a family about anything, whether it’s food, a book, an activity, a TV show, uh, anything. If somebody likes it and then the other one is caught. Sort of seeing something negative about it. They’re going to be met with, don’t yuck my yum in our house. So there is an awareness there because it really does, uh, impact our experience of what we like, which is a loss.

[00:18:33] Pam: So you had another example here of, um, how these biases work together that you experienced the other day.

[00:18:39] Sarah: I did and I categorized this one as well as a mostly harmless example, uh, alongside your, your film example. And this is a recent example. So I’m driving my kid to his sports practice and we, um, are driving along the street. It’s normally a two lane road and there’s construction going on. So now it’s just reduced to one lane.

That’s a significant amount of traffic and somebody with a large SUV decides to double park and block the entire route. And I have a huge pet peeve about people who double park because it is incredibly rude. I just find it so rude every time I see someone who, this is also my negativity bias, like I will notice it, no one else will notice because it’s like on the other side of the street, but I have like an eagle eye for it.

But I’ll notice, I’ll make a comment, I’ll feel my heart race, I’ll just feel really annoyed because it is incredibly rude. It’s putting everyone out of their way. It’s creating an unsafe situation and it’s selfish. So in this instance, this person did it and it inconvenienced a whole lot of people, including me.

I got riled up about that. So I noticed it. I get mad. I start talking about it in the car, telling my kid, we’re going to be late. And mommy hates it when people double park and it’s so rude and blah, blah, blah. And now we have to find another route. And then I just got put in a bad mood and I noticed after that, I didn’t notice at the time, but I noticed after the fact, I was noticing the other things that were annoying me about the drive.

Well, now I have to go to this other route. I don’t like this other route as much. And now there’s a lot of traffic and now you’re going to be late and now we’re waiting. So I started thinking, you know, this is negative, this is a bad experience. And then I started looking for other elements of this drive that made it bad.

And I mean, it’s not a big deal. It was a 10 minute drive, but in looking back, I ruined that moment. Really it was a low stakes moment. It didn’t matter if he was like, It didn’t matter that we had to go out of the way. The sun was shining. We’re in a car. I’m chit chatting with my awesome kid. It really is no big deal, right?

So had I been able to self manage and sort of notice that and be like, Oh yeah, this is one of my triggers… you know, don’t like it when people do this. Take your breath. Well, I could have actually shifted into an experience where I just chit chatted with him and shot the breeze and had a moment and had another little drive and was fine about it.

So that’s an example where I thought, and only when I’m doing this prep, I thought, oh yeah, I really, um, these biases colored my experience.

[00:21:30] Pam: Yeah. And they’re so strong that even when you’re aware of them…

[00:21:34] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:21:35] Pam: Especially if you get into one of those situations where it is triggering something that’s like a thing for you,

[00:21:41] Sarah: Yeah,

[00:21:41] Pam: it’s so easy to slip into that loop, even being aware of it. Like, so imagine what it’s like for people who have not… like, maybe there are people who are listening to this, this is the first time they’re ever, you know, hearing about this, this could be like a revolutionary mindset shift to just even start to have awareness of these things and how your brain gets carried away without you.

[00:22:04] Sarah: Yeah. Yep. Yep. Yep. And this is, you know, an isolated drive with my kid. Yet, if we see that as an example, imagine always I let myself get overwhelmed by things that make me mad and then always having those conversations with my kid. Then that becomes the norm. So that’s, these are all small examples that we’re giving, and we’re gonna talk about some bigger examples later, yet they can, they can easily expand.

[00:22:34] Pam: They can, and the, the silly little things are what make up your life, right? The, the big impactful things are smaller moments, but really the majority of your day is made out of these small interactions and small moments. And if we start to make a shift in how we react in those lower stakes times, then we’re able to shift how we react in the higher stakes times.

[00:23:05] Sarah: So good.

[00:23:06] Pam: Okay, so let’s get into some examples that are some of those higher stakes times that can have a bigger impact on your life, whether that is career trajectory, whether it’s relationships, just, you know, a lot of those like bigger, more impactful moments. One that came to mind for me is giving a speech or, um, presenting at a meeting or something like that, where you are in front of an audience, uh, maybe speaking at a conference.

Um, that, that came to mind for me because being in marketing, uh, we do a lot of speaking at conferences and a lot of the conferences will ask for, uh, feedback from the audience on the speakers, so they know who to invite back. You know, for future conferences, and some of them will share that feedback with their speakers.

So you could get, you know, if you’ve got an audience of a hundred people and maybe, a quarter of them even bothered to fill out the feedback. And so 20 of them say positive things. And then a couple say that, you, you know, spoke too fast and, um, the information wasn’t as advanced as it should have been, or, you know, whatever their, their feedback is, you’re going to completely ignore the 20 positive things and only focus on those two negatives. And there may be valuable information in there of like, Oh yeah, I do speak too fast when I’m giving public speaking. So I, you know, can work on that. But if you can’t like stop and be aware of what’s happening, you could latch on to those negative things and go, I’m a terrible speaker. I’m never doing this again.

And you never put yourself up for any, um, speaking roles or standing up in a meeting

[00:25:03] Sarah: Yeah.

[00:25:03] Pam: or, you know, We’re just putting yourself out there to have those experiences, and that could hinder your career.

[00:25:12] Sarah: A hundred percent. You can also turn it into a story about yourself, right? And then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. I’m not a good speaker. Like I work as a public speaking coach and instructor and this I see played out. So I’m so happy you included this example because I see this played out over and over again to hundreds of people and, you know, we can become attached to a story, an incident that happened 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago.

And sometimes my, my clients or my students will say, well, I’ve gotten this feedback that, for example, um, I’m, I’m just not, I don’t sound confident when I speak. Okay. And the, one of the first questions I ask is, you know, what, when, when did this happen and how often have you received this feedback?

Sometimes it’s once, twice, well, a couple of times. And have you gotten any other feedback, positive feedback? Well, yeah. I mean, these people have said, I’ve done, you know, I’m, I’m a good speaker. So this one, you know, these few comments have, have connected, connected, connected. Suddenly it’s a story that they have about themselves.

Okay. Right? They’ve really, really, that’s the negativity bias, they latch onto that and then they seek the, well this time it happened, then this time, and then this time. And, and suddenly this becomes the evidence that they’ve pieced together to create the story, and not only does it feel bad, erode our confidence, I mean, that’s reason enough to question it, but on top of that, as you mentioned, it can negatively impact our career.

We’re not speaking up in meetings because we’re afraid that we’re not going to do a good job and we’re going to be judged. We’re not putting our names forward to speak up on panels, at conferences, at industry events, so that we can be known. We’re not putting our hand up to show up on podcasts or anywhere else to increase our visibility.

And then people don’t know about our ideas and our expertise, all because we think that we’re not a good enough speaker because of these few pieces of feedback that we’ve received that, that are negative. So huge, huge lasting impact, um, when it comes to presenting.

[00:27:32] Pam: Yeah. And it’s not about ignoring the feedback and saying, Oh, someone said that I don’t sound confident when I’m speaking. I’m, you know, they’re clearly stupid. I’m just going to completely disregard everything they said. It’s about looking at all of the feedback and seeing, you know, what do I need to take away from this?

Is there something that I need to improve on? Or is this not something that I should worry about? And having that perspective of, okay, I did get some feedback and I’m going to work on that and, and keep pursuing this path.

[00:28:10] Sarah: Precisely. It’s a yes, and. We all can improve in most areas of our life. It’s, it’s not a problem if there are skills that you need to work on. It’s not to say that the feedback isn’t valid. It’s to say that the feedback isn’t a valid reason to hold your, to stop speaking. It’s, it’s work on it, but keep going.

[00:28:30] Pam: Yeah. So you called this stalled progress in your notes…

[00:28:36] Sarah: yes. So I categorized, um, a few examples as stalled progress, uh, examples. That was the name I gave it in the moment. The idea is that we’re gaining momentum in something, we’re gaining traction in something, then we get some kind of feedback that feels bad.

And then we stop and there’s a huge loss. So the presentation skills example is one. Another example would be any type of creative pursuit, whether we’re doing that for in the workplace, or we’re doing that outside of the workplace. Let’s say we’re, we want to write. Lots of people want to write. You know, I want to write short stories.

I want to write poems. I want to write articles. We want to cook. We want to, um, you know, create something, create a podcast, whatever it is. Something we want to create, it doesn’t go well, we think, because somebody doesn’t like it, or we don’t meet our own standards. And then, you know, The impact is then we think, Oh my gosh, I’m not good at this.

We look for other examples of when we haven’t been good enough at something and then we stop doing it. So the impact is we no longer do the thing. We no longer grow. We no longer innovate. That whole creative project is stalled.

[00:29:50] Pam: Another example that you have in here is, um, about health goals, which I found really interesting.

[00:29:57] Sarah: Yeah. So we might have, um, a health goal around exercising more or eating in a different way or adopting any type of new regime and we could be doing really well and then something doesn’t go well. Maybe somebody makes an offhand comment to us that makes us feel bad. Maybe we say the offhand comment to ourselves and makes us feel bad.

And then suddenly we can really lose motivation and really forfeit the entire experience and think about all the times when we haven’t followed through on our health goals, et cetera. So that would be another example of like losing the momentum. Really how these biases can get in the way of momentum and growth.

[00:30:41] Pam: Yeah. I think that’s a big one because people will, you know, get on like a health kick and they’re doing it for a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of months. And then something, affects them, makes them, you know, fall off the wagon or stop doing whatever they were doing. And then that just confirms, Oh yeah, I, I’m not, I’m not the person who works out or eats right, or I’ve failed again.

And you just continue to reinforce that story and tell yourself that you’re, you know, that you’re not the person that is going to achieve those goals. And so you stop, even if you were doing great and you were seeing the progress that you wanted to see.

[00:31:21] Sarah: Yes, And so really these biases can stand in the way of a lot of good. Like not only do they create negative feelings, but they can stop us from having a lot of good things that we want to create for ourselves.

[00:31:38] Pam: I loved this example that you have in here about how it can create relationship tensions. Cause we’re talking a lot about the impact that it has on you personally, but it can also impact how you communicate with a partner or a boss or coworkers. It’s going to impact how you interact with everyone.

[00:31:58] Sarah: Yes. So within a relationship, an example of how negativity bias could show up would be a scanning a conversation for something that our partner says that feels negative to us. Like, let’s say, uh, an example could be, we think that they haven’t, they haven’t liked our cooking, right? They might make an offhand comment about the dish, um, it was okay, but, right?

Or it could be really clear, I didn’t like it. Who knows? Whatever it is, something you interpret to be negative, and then that feels really blown up to you. And then you start looking for other examples of when, um, your partner has said things that have hurt you and it becomes, it’s like that self fulfilling spiral. Now that’s not to say, if your partner is saying a lot of disparaging things, that you should ignore it.

[00:32:51] Pam: of course.

[00:32:51] Sarah: I’m a huge advocate for, you know, healthy, loving relationships and communication. Um, we just want to point out that sometimes tensions can be exaggerated if our negativity bias is left unchecked.

[00:33:06] Pam: Yeah. This example is very clear to me, I think, because I do all of the cooking in the house. So there has definitely been times where… um, for the most part, like CK will eat anything that I put in front of him and he’s happy because someone has made him a meal. Um, and, um, But, you know, there’s been a couple of times where it’s like, Oh, that wasn’t, you know, I didn’t really like that or whatever.

And it could very easily turn into me then thinking about all the times that I made things that weren’t good and then building the story of like, okay, so I’m not a good cook. And then, so I’m going to stop cooking and then we’re going to, you know, eat packaged food. And then it just, it can spiral into this whole situation.

[00:33:47] Sarah: You, and you don’t appreciate anything I do for you,

[00:33:49] Pam: right, right.

[00:33:51] Sarah: But that’s how that can go.

[00:33:53] Pam: Yeah, yeah, it really can get that out of control if you give it time and fuel. It can really go to this point where then all of a sudden you’re like, how did I get here? definitely in relationships, but, um, with, uh, like we were talking about with news consumption or, um, political stuff, you know, if you hold a strong political belief

[00:34:19] Sarah: Mm-Hmm?

[00:34:19] Pam: and you seek out news that supports that, or you go on YouTube and the algorithm starts showing you more videos that are like increasingly, um, down the rabbit hole of these beliefs, you, you know, you might have started on the, you know, edge of whatever the opinions are. And then you just get more and more extreme information fed to you. And all of a sudden you’re, you know, in a cult, right? That’s how it happens.

[00:34:51] Sarah: It is.

[00:34:53] Pam: But I really liked your comment about when that happens, that you then have a limited understanding of complex issues, because I think that that’s really something that is facing a lot of people right now. You know, we just get soundbites or we get information fed to us that we, that confirms what we believe and we’re becoming really unable to parse complex situations and to have awareness of like, this situation is not black and white. And this is something that’s going to show up in every relationship that you have in every, um, you know, every situation in your life. Having the ability to understand nuance. And having perspective of like, yes, this thing happened, but this other thing also happened, you know, like you said, it’s, it’s all yes, and situations.

So, um, really having the, the perspective and the clarity to see, like, Yes, I got this information and all of these other things are true.

[00:36:05] Sarah: And this is reminding me of our previous con conversation about changing our minds… and how hard it is to change our minds. Confirmation bias also comes from this place of wanting to be right. So we’re like, I’m right. I know I’m right. And I’m going to find all the information that’s going to tell me that I am, because it feels good.

It’s giving us a sense of control and it’s giving us a sense of confidence that we know what’s best versus the humility of saying, I don’t know. I don’t know. I know some things and lots of them conflict.

[00:36:50] Pam: That’s a really hard pill to swallow, right? That, that we have, we can hold so many different opinions or pieces of information and that they can conflict. We don’t like, as humans, we don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like gray areas. And so that can definitely be something that is happening with this, this feedback loop of the negativity bias and confirmation bias is you, you want to get rid of that conflict.

You want to get rid of the idea that, um, you know, I got up on the stage and I thought that I did really good. And then this person hated it. Like that creates a conflict in your brain and you want to resolve that because it doesn’t feel good. So you go, Oh, okay, well, I must’ve been terrible. And let me go find all the other comments that support that I was terrible.

Okay. So let’s talk about some of the ways to mitigate this feedback loop of negativity, bias, and confirmation bias.

[00:37:54] Sarah: Now, the first recommendation we have is Mindfulness. Something we’ve talked about in many episodes and here it’s showing up again because it’s so useful. Um, when we say mindfulness, we mean our ability to be present in the moment and to observe our thoughts and our emotions. So stopping, noticing it, labeling, oh this is a negative thought.

And noticing, am I feeding this negative thought? Am I indulging in this practice, which is human, but noticing, am I indulging in this human practice of feeding my negative thought by finding other negative thoughts and getting riled up about it? And one way, when we’re present and mindful, one way I can notice that for myself is my heart will start beating like I’ll actually feel my physiology change.

My heart starts beating. I’m going to get be getting hot. I’m going to be talking fast. Expressing myself like really speedy, right? Um, those are some of the telltale signs that I’m getting into a spin. If I can pause, become mindful of my thoughts, um, notice that by how the biases might be at play, I have more of a hope of having some control over those thoughts and redirecting.

[00:39:23] Pam: And curiosity really comes in here for me. Like, we’ve got the awareness now that these biases happen. They affect everyone. It’s not your fault. Like there’s no blame here. This is. Something that your brain’s just going to do, now you’ve got the awareness of it, and now you can kind of go, Oh, I wonder why I’m latching on to this piece of information?

And use the curiosity of, um, of just like digging into why you’re so attached to this negative thing instead of it being like a situation where you start judging yourself and beating yourself up like, Oh, I’m doing it again. You know, I’m, you know, I always do this, like be like, huh, I wonder why, why is this one bothering me so much?

[00:40:10] Sarah: And I love that you just pulled out from our Unwinding Anxiety, Unwinding Anxiety episode for folks who haven’t listened yet. So if you haven’t have a listen, but explain about the curiosity, “hm”

[00:40:23] Pam: Yeah. So when you go into a loop of like, whether it’s an anxiety loop or in this case, this feedback loop of the biases, curiosity and actually using the sound, huh, huh. Like, Oh, I wonder why, like actually doing that, it breaks the cycle. It just stops your brain from going into that loop and gives you a second to like back up and be able to have the clarity to look at the situation differently.

[00:40:54] Sarah: hot tip, and open your eyes wide.

[00:40:59] Pam: Yes.

[00:41:00] Sarah: That was one of his other tips. Um, alright I love it. So the mindfulness, the curiosity, and you can actually embody that curiosity by saying, and opening your eyes wide to stop those loops. Um, another active, um, step you can take is to seek out diverse perspectives. So if you’re noticing that you are believing really strongly in one way, what can you do to open up your news source, sources, to hear from other individuals and practice the art of, of real active listening, where you’re willing to receive the information, in a space of curiosity and not judgment.

[00:41:45] Pam: Yeah. Because you can go and seek information and then actually use it to just double down on your beliefs, like we were talking about earlier. Um, and this is something that I have been really interested in. really actively trying to do because I did notice that I had gotten into kind of this cycle of, you know, just reading the New York times and, you know, not getting news from other sources or having conversations with people with different political beliefs than I have.

And so I’ve made a concerted effort to like listen to interviews with people that I would never listen to. And it’s been really eye opening and really, um, I’ve had such Like conflict in my brain of like, I thought I hated this person. And now I’m listening to an interview with them and they’re actually pretty reasonable.

And, you know, it just really makes you see that the world is not as cut and dried as you think that it is, and that your opinions are, probably based more on, um, belief than they are on fact. So it’s a really interesting thing to do, but I wanted to add that if you, um, Start, um, like when you get negative feedback about yourself that you start to, um, you know, change your behavior because of… question the source of the feedback.

So, you know, if, if your boss is giving you great feedback about the work that you’re doing, but, um, a coworker that is jealous of you is giving you negative feedback, like the negative feedback is coming from an unreliable source. So you not, you not only need to have diverse sources, but you need to question the source that is providing you the information that you’re relying on.

[00:43:39] Sarah: Great perspective. Be discerning about where all this info is coming from.

Excellent. Uh, next tip is to practice gratitude. Cultivating a gratitude practice is going to help you counter negativity bias by training you to look out for what’s going well in your life and what there is to be grateful for every single day.

Um, there are many ways to do this. You can do it first thing in the morning. You can write out a list of three things, five things, 10 things, 20 things you’re grateful for every morning. You can do it before you step out of bed in the morning. You can do it while you’re showering.

You can write it down. You can say it out loud. You can tell your partner, you can tell yourself in the morning. If anyone thinks having a gratitude practice is hokey, I will say it truly is life changing. It really is. Uh, because of exactly what we’re talking about. You’re, you’re training yourself to look for things that are good in order to counter your brain’s, uh, automatic way of looking for things that are a threat or that are bad.

So finding a way that, that, uh, finding a way to integrate a gratitude practice in your life is a great long term strategy for this.

[00:45:00] Pam: Yeah. Surrounding yourself with evidence to the contrary of, of the negative things is great. Like something that I know a lot of people do is keep like a folder in their email where they will put any positive feedback that they’ve received. So when they’re feeling down or when they’ve gotten some negative feedback, or if they’re, you know, think, Oh, I’m terrible at my job today.

You can just go into that folder and read all of these comments that people have given you of positive feedback.

[00:45:31] Sarah: Good one.

[00:45:33] Pam: So what we’re really talking about here is the process that we kind of talk about with everything, which is build awareness, which we’re doing now. Um, start practicing your mindfulness in moments where the stakes are lower, so this becomes your habit, so that then you’re able to do it in higher stakes situations, and then putting intention behind what you’re doing.

So you’re intentionally seeking out information, um, that is challenging the negative. Information that’s coming in and then taking that positive reinforcement information and turning it into a gratitude practice or saving this information to rely on when you do start to get into this negative feedback loop.

And that allows you to start challenging the automatic thoughts and it allows you to start reducing the impact that these biases have on you when you are letting your brain kind of operate out of control, because that’s what we’re talking about here, right? Is that your brain takes over and it is trying to make you… trying to help you survive.

And that, that survival need is really not important anymore in the lives that we live now. So we’re constantly battling against these automatic processes in our brain to actually get a brain that works with the challenges and the situations that we have in our modern day lives.

[00:47:18] Sarah: Yeah. And the theme of our podcast is to make your life a little bit easier. And so if your thoughts can better support what you really wanna do and better support your happiness, your health. Then that’s a win..

Bye bye.

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