And we also know why...our brains are wired for it. We've even given it a name - negativity bias.
In the brain, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The left hemisphere, which is known for articulate language, is specialized for positive experiences; whereas, the right hemisphere focuses on negative experiences. Another area of the brain used for the negativity bias is the amygdala. This specific area of the brain uses about two-thirds of its neurons searching for negative experiences. Once the amygdala starts looking for the bad news, it is stored into long-term memory. Positive experiences have to be held in awareness for more than twelve seconds in order for the transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory to take place... Implicit memory registers and responds to negative events almost immediately. It takes five to twenty seconds for positive experiences to even register in the brain.Negativity bias means that our brains and body get a jolt out of bad news, whereas good news rolls in slowly and quietly. If you think that the news media, political campaigns, and bloggers aren't well acquainted with this scientific fact then you're fooling yourself. Its what drives clicks, eyeballs and donations. And the more tolerance we develop to being manipulated like that, the more sensational the headlines become.
Bloggers all over the political spectrum exploit this reality. Nothing drives up traffic more than finding some obnoxious thing an obscure person from the opposition has done. Scream about it in your headline and the traffic soars. Pick a problem you care about passionately and write endless columns about how awful things are and you'll develop a devoted following.
The trouble with overdosing on negativity bias is that it has consequences. After a while all those jolts of bad news pile up and lead to discouragement then pessimism then cynicism then depression. It also ultimately leads to seeing yourself as the victim of all that bad news. So instead of actually engaging in the struggle, we wallow in our defeats - focusing our attention on the power of the opposition rather than our victories, no matter how small they sometimes are.
The research about all this tells us that it takes 5 positive experiences to counteract 1 negative experience. That's why I find the work of Linda H. over at what IS working to be so vital. When you feel yourself getting discouraged, go check out what she's talking about and soak up a little antidote to your negativity bias.
P.S. Sometimes the purveyors of negativity bias have suggested that those who pay attention to the positive are "propagandists." My suggestion would be that a focus one way or the other would deserve that title. Its just that we have to remember the 5:1 ratio and the reality that its a lot easier to be a successful propagandist when you exploit the negativity bias.