The negativity bias

An American company discovered the surprising power of the default option. On shifting the automatic decision of its employees from opting out of a pension scheme to opting in, enrollment rates jumped from 49% to 86%.

The default option is our unconscious choice. It requires effort to evaluate and change this status quo – something that our inherently lazy minds are reluctant to do.

What are some of our innate default options? For instance, what happens when we are handed a clean piece of cloth with a spot somewhere in the middle? What are we likely to notice?

Our minds unconsciously choose and amplify negative things. That is why it is very hard to make a good impression or to build trust, and very easy to lose them. Studies have shown that people are more likely to attend to, learn from and use negative information far more than positive information. Negative events leave a more lasting impact on our brains. No wonder it feels twice as terrible to lose 100 bucks than to gain the same amount.

Optimism, then, is often a learned quality that requires us to invest time, conscious effort and practice to make positive choices that override our default negativity. Whenever we find ourselves being cynical, it pays to pause, snap out of our laziness and change the default option.

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