WEEK 33- Overcoming Negativity Bias

Equipment Required
Pen and Paper

PERMAH Element
Positive emotion

Teachers to read and facilitate the following:



Negativity bias is the human tendency to notice and be more influenced by bad things and bad experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences. Examples of our negativity bias include: remembering a bad day more easily than a good day, or remembering insults instead of the nice things people say. Our brains react more strongly to negative input than positive input. We have a negativity bias because humans evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the bad- this actually helped our ancestors stay alive. Negative emotions focus our energy for survival, which is fine if there is a lion in the classroom. While it is unlikely that a lion would be in our classroom, our brains are still wired to constantly be on the lookout for harm or danger. In most cases, this is unhelpful in our modern day world. Left unchecked, the negativity bias can get in the way of our happiness and wellbeing.

Knowing that we have a negativity bias can help us balance our negativity with positivity. We need much more positivity to outweigh the negativity in order to flourish. Because our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, and like Teflon (the stuff that makes fry pans non-stick) for positive ones, we need to intentionally notice and savour the positive experiences and feelings we have (Hanson, 2010).  We need 3, 4, 5 or 6 positive emotions to outweigh 1 negative emotion. The exact ratio is hard to determine (Brown et al, 2013) and will be different for everyone. Within bounds, higher positivity ratios are predictive of flourishing mental health (Fredrickson, 2013). Steps to increase positives include: scattering your day with things that you will enjoy, keeping a gratitude journal and savouring the good.

Description of Personal Wellbeing Practice: Overcoming Negativity Bias

Using the Losada Positivity Ratio can be a great guide in practically overcoming our negativity bias. It can help us put things into perspective and not be swayed by our sensitivity to negatives.

  1. On your paper draw a line down the middle.

  2. Think about your day yesterday.

  3. Reflect on one negative experience that happened and write it down on one side of the line.

  4. Now think of some positive experiences and choose three to write down on the other side of the paper.

  5. Spend a moment savouring the positive emotions from the good things that happened yesterday.

Using a ratio can help us balance out our tendency to notice the bad, and we can intentionally look for more positives. This is also really important in our relationships. We can increase the positivity in our relationships by using the ratio as a guide and always try to outweigh the one negative with 3 to 6 positives.

Main message:


“By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience, you’ll help turn a passing mental state into a lasting [one].” Adapted from a quote by Rick Hanson


UPP’s Personal Wellbeing Practices

A Personal Wellbeing Practice (PWP) is an evidenced-based positive psychology intervention, applied in school communities or other educational settings. At UPP, we have tried to make these PWP’s simple, concise and relevant for students and their teachers. The six elements for the Personal Wellbeing Practices are: Positive emotion (P); Engagement (E); Relationships (R); Meaning (M); Accomplishment (A); and, Health (H).

We hope that these evidence-based tools of positive psychology will enhance help people to thrive and live their best life, both within and beyond the school gates.  

For more activities like this (and much more), check out THRIVE Online Lesson Modules for Pastoral Care and Wellbeing.

Unleashing Personal Potential