Health and Happiness Tips: Priming, Negative Bias and Intention
Welcome to today’s blog on the importance of Priming, Negativity Bias and Intention.
This is being posted on Monday morning in the UK, to help you start your week in a different way, but whatever time you’re reading this, wherever in the world you come across it I invite you to pause for a minute and think, ok, how could I start the rest of the week from this point of view?
To start this week off in the best way, I’d like to focus on the idea of setting intentions and priming.
Setting intentions is about deciding how you’re going to move through the week, through the day, through this moment independent of what happens. This gives you a guiding principle of, “This is how I’m going to respond to whatever occurs”.
In research, this is called priming.
Priming is where our brain has already started a particular way of thinking, which then allows us to process information through that way of thinking. We can prime ourselves negatively, and in fact, the brain has a vast capacity to do this where we start to see trouble everywhere, but we can also use it for good…
We can prime ourselves by deciding, ok, I’m going to start the week by approaching everything from a place of:
Or seeing the bigger picture
and so on
So the first thing you’re going to do is decide how you want to experience the next week.
Which one from the list of examples speaks to you? But as it could really be anything, feel free to choose your own priming.
This is a great way to set your intention, to set your direction, so that whatever does happen, then you’re coming to it from this neurological perspective of; ‘this is how I choose to process and interpret and see what happens in my life’.
Negativity bias describes how we are often negatively primed and pay more attention to negative things than positive things. The amygdala, the part of our brain concerned with processing threats and fear responses, has a role in this as it is considered to have about 2/3 of neurons looking for ‘bad news’. Daniel Khaneman designed some experiments to see how we respond to negative and positive experiences. He found that when people were asked to imagine losing $50 or gaining $50, they had a much larger emotional response to the idea of loss rather than gain, even though the amount of cash was the same.
There are different pieces of research saying what percentage of positive thoughts are required to balance a negative one – some researchers suggest it takes 40 good reviews to outweigh a single negative one. But there is some debate about the precise ratio of the effect of good to bad experiences. Whatever the number is, we’ve all had that experience where we’ve had some nice comments and one unpleasant comment, and that one unpleasant comment seems to connect us more strongly to the negative feeling than the positive ones do.
This is considered to be of evolutionary value. Staying clear of danger is more valuable for survival than focusing on where the honey is or the pretty flowers. A useful way of thinking about it is negatives are like Velcro, they stick, and the positives are more like Teflon, they ping off us. That means we have to prime ourselves against this built bias and focus more on the positives. And so to be positive, we have to work even harder because we’ve got this tendency to focus on negatives.
So thinking about this, what for you would you like to set as your intention for this week to bring yourself back to start from that point?
And anytime you find yourself wobbling a bit from it, because we’re all human, that is likely to happen, this will help you to decide to bring yourself back.
When you’ve put this into practice, notice what kind of a week you have as a result of deciding this is how I’m going to deal with stuff, whatever happens.
Let me know what a difference it makes.
Bargh, J. A. (2006). What have we been priming all these years? On the development, mechanisms, and ecology of nonconscious social behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36(2), 147–168. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.336
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin.
Richter, M., Schroeter, C., Puensch, T., Straube, T., Hecht, H., Ritter, A., Miltner, W. H., & Weiss, T. (2014). Pain-related and negative semantic priming enhances perceived pain intensity. Pain Research and Management, 19(2), 69–74. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/425321
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296–320. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327957PSPR0504_2
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