How to be eco-positive and overcome your brain’s negativity bias

I’m still eco-positive

I am a rare breed in today’s world, almost extinct. I am an eco-positivist. Whatever problems we face, we have the ingenuity and the technological brilliance to fix them. It may be nerve-wracking for a while but ultimately we’ll get there, and relative to humanity’s history so far, do rather well.

But recently I have discovered the concept of “negativity bias”, a programming in our brains that “forces” us to see the worst in things.

For my Fruganomics blog I search every day for good news I can spread about the environment. All of this I suspect causes most people I encounter to view me with some confusion. Poor deluded fool!

So who’s right?

So is negativity justified? Yes, we are destroying the planet faster than it can recover

I have long wondered why, in an unparalleled age of affluence and technological miracles, we all seem so down-in-the-mouth. Is it just “the media” – that convenient flogging post of universal ills?

No. It isn’t the media, it’s us! It’s not that there’s something in the media that is drawn to negativity – there’s something in us! And now I’ve found a book to back me up. 

For better or worse, “negative” images stimulate more electrical activity in the brain than positive ones.

Negativity bias is in our genes

In a catchily-titled book called The Power of Bad  social psychologist Roy Baumeister and journalist John Tierney explain how a bias towards negativity is actually built into our genes, and has probably helped humans survive up to this point. 

For better or worse, “negative” images – maybe a polluted river or a poached elephant – stimulate more electrical activity in the brain than positive ones. 

And research also shows negative images stay in the mind longer than positive ones.

We are all affected by negativity bias, but can we use it to help the environment? Baumeister believes we can break destructive patterns simply by overwhelming them with a greater number of positive ones. For some reason this number seems to be four. 

What this means is that environmental activists should be exposing us to four times as many positive stories and images about the environment as negative ones. What this means is – 

eco-positivity works!

So good news guys! We can fix negative bias

To help you bring in four positive thoughts for every negative one and defeat negativity bias I have republished four recent positive news stories:

1 – Clean Energy

2 – Eco-Conscious Fashion

3 – Plastic Waste

4 – Banking and Finance

So, an eco-positive attitude works. If we all start looking at the things that went right as well as the ones that didn’t work out we’ll move faster towards fixing our relationship problems with our planet.

Ready for more eco-positivity? Read Are You Zen Eco-Positive?


1 comment

  • You may also be interested in Per Espen Stokes’s talk. I am told that it is sound psychology. He has the same figure of four times as many positive as negative stories for action.

    The five barriers are:

    distancing from the situation, it seems far away in time and space
    a doom laden narrative that makes us fearful and for many people means they want to avoid the topic altogether
    a dissonance between what you want to do and the solutions,
    leading to denial of the problem, – not from lack of intelligence or knowledge, but when you are aware of some troubling knowledge but live and act as if you don’t know.
    Then identity – if you hear from an activist that you have to do something that goes against your values, for instance if you have conservative values and hear that the govenment must expand its influence. My identity trumps the truth any day.

    We flip them by

    Flip distance to social by spreading social norms positive to solutions, if I believe my friends or neighbours will do something, I will too. Peer to peer creating a new normal
    flip doom to supportive, for instance reframe climate as about human health, good for you and for the climate, rather than about disaster and cost. To create engagement, we should present three positive or supporting framings for each climate threat we mention.
    flip dissonance by nudging to simpler actions – there are things we can do right now. As our behaviours are nudged then we realize we are already doing these things and the dissonance evaporates
    flip denial with signals that visualize our progress – we can see we are doing things already
    flip identity with better stories – of people who are acting, heroes and heroines to emulate and admire

    This then completes the circle back to social. Individual solutions can’t solve climate problems alone but they do build a stronger bottom-up support for the policies and solutions that can

    See my

    . How to motivate your self, and others to act on climate change, biodiversity or anything else – tips from psychology

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