As children we are often told that sticks and stones can break bones, but words can never hurt. Yet with the benefit of experience, adults understand that this old proverb is far from true – while physical injuries can take a matter of weeks to heal, negative comments can scar us for a lifetime.
Whether it’s criticism calmly dispensed by a teacher at school, or a cruel comment hurled in the heat of an argument with a friend or lover, we tend to remember criticism far better than positive comments, due to a phenomenon called the negativity bias.
In fact, a whole host of complex effects can be explained by this bias, which is the universal tendency for negative emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones. It causes us to pay special attention to threats and exaggerate the dangers, according to Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at the University of Queensland and co-author of The Power of Bad: And How to Overcome It. [Continue reading…]