Our Negativity Bias & What It Means For Social Media

Dr. Rick Hanson offers one of the most simple, clear explanations of negativity bias:

“the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

This served us well during evolution; for example, remembering that lions are dangerous is much for useful than remembering how nice a rose smells. In order to stay alive, we prioritize the negative memories and experiences. As Dr. Hanson perfectly describes:

“The alarm bell of your brain — the amygdala (you’ve got two of these little almond-shaped regions, one on either side of your head) — uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news: it’s primed to go negative. Once it sounds the alarm, negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory — in contrast to positive events and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.”

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 11.44.16 AM.png

I studied PTSD at-length while in college, and one of the promising theories is that the disorder is actually the brain stuck in this negative cycle to an extreme point–over-activating the negative response (fear, startle, racing heart). The trauma is primed to be triggered by any similar negative experience.

Now, how does this relate to your social media consumption?

A recent study found that negative interactions on social media have a much stronger impact than positive interactions. Every 10% increase in positive interactions/experiences on social media was associated with a 4% decrease in chances of depressive symptoms, but those results were not statistically significant, which means that the findings could simply be due to chance (aka positive social media experiences might not effect us). On the flip side, for every 10% increase in negative experiences, there was a 20% increase in the odds of depressive symptoms–a finding that was statistically significant. Remember, correlation does not equal causation; while social media might increase depressive symptoms, it’s also possible that individuals with depressive symptoms seek out negative social media experiences.

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 11.46.11 AM

What we can we do about this?

Unfollow. Unfriend. Remove all the negativity from your news feed.

That girl who posts stunning photos that makes you feel ugly and boring? Unfollow.

That acquaintance who makes a snide remark on your new profile picture? Unfriend.

Think about how you feel looking at different posts, comments, and photos and make sure to use your social media mindfully. It can be a wonderful tool for connection when used with a focus on positivity, networking, and friendship.


Do you find yourself feeling sad while on social media? When was your last social media purge?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *