Lately, I’ve taken a solid interest in learning more about the psychology of human beings. We are without doubt curious creatures and so it’s fascinating to understand a bit more about how people think and how we might be able to think better.

Meet Alison Ledgerwood. Alison describes herself as a professional people watcher (aka social psychologist). In her TED talk she dives into explaining the psychological effect of gains and losses.

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Depending on how you describe the glass to people it changes how they feel about it. Typically, if one sees the glass as half-full, this is known as the ‘Gain frame’. Conversely, those who see the glass as half-empty are categorised as being in the ‘Loss frame’. The key question Alison chose to explore was ‘Do our minds get stuck in the negatives?’.

Glass Half Full or Empty

Do our minds get stuck in the negatives?

A number of studies were conducted that showed an interesting pattern of psychological behaviour that suggests our minds are more challenged by negative emotions than they are to positive ones.

Study 1: Medical procedure

When one group of people were asked about how they would feel about a particular medical procedure when stating it had a 70% success rate, the response was positive. People thought it was a good acceptable procedure. But when the other group were asked how they’d feel about the procedure when stating it had a 30% failure rate (the opposite of a 70% success rate), people didn’t like it.

BUT, when Group 1 were told they could also think of this as a 30% failure rate, they changed their minds and didn’t like it anymore. When the question was asked to Group 2 that they could think of it as a 70% success rate, unlike the first group, they stuck with their initial opinion. Which then brings the question…

Is it mentally harder from someone to convert from losses to gains than it is from gains to losses?

The third study conducted looked at answering this question.

Negative Psychology 1Given the two scenarios, it took Group 2 almost 4 seconds longer to solve the simple math equation, which suggests people struggle more when converting from a loss to a gain than from a gain to a loss. This finding has a bigger impact than you would think when applied to everyday life and the world at large.

Negative Psychology 2

Our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt to the negative.

These findings from the study above were then applied to Economy and Consumer Confidence and the graph below shows that when the economy drops, consumer confidence drops with it. But when the economy increases again, consumer confidence doesn’t increase at the same rate.

Work to see the upside

Consider how this might be affecting you in other ways. Let’s say, the Australian Liberal Party and the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Now, before the election Tony made a number of key promises to the Australian people that services and resources would not be negatively effected under a Liberal Government. Since being elected by many on good faith, the Liberal Party has gone back on several of their promises. If we relate Consumer Confidence with the majority of the Australian public, it could potentially follow quite closely to the graph above. This would therefore suggest that even if Tony Abbott changes his mind and tries to stick to his promises, it will take a longer period of time for the Australian people to be convinced and restore faith in the leader of this country.

So, if the relationship between negativity and restoring positivity can affect you in everyday life how can you overcome it?

To overcome negativity we need to work to see the upside

We have to work harder to see the upside of things. You can train your mind make this better. Just thinking or writing a few minutes each day about things that you’re grateful for can dramatically boost your happiness, well-being and health. I’ve written about these concepts before in the following posts:

We tend to think that venting about misery (like how bad our day was) will make us feel better, so we talk and talk and talk about these negative emotions, which consequently fuels the fire of negativity.

We often forget about talking about the good stuff.

So why not give this a go? Next time your friend, partner, family member etc comes home and starts venting, let them vent, but after a few minutes ask them what was good about their day. A simple question like that might challenge many to dig deep, but there’s always something you will be able to think of. And once you do, pay close attention to their facial expressions. Do they start to smile or laugh? Is the general tone in their voice more energetic and happy? Chances are your simple little question will have changed that person’s mood and made them happy about the day.

What else could you do to make the world a little less negative?

You know what they say, think global, act local. Start the movement in your local community. We can all become more aware that the bad tends to stick. We know that bad tends to propagate itself. So what if the next time someone snaps at you, you forgave them? What if the next time you had a really grumpy waiter you left them a tip? What if the next time you see someone who looks down you tell them they have a nice smile? Even just the little positive comments like that will have a positive effect and could literally change that person’s day.

Watch Alison Ledgerwood’s speech at TED below and start getting those positive vibes moving in your life.