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No.29 Negativity Bias

The negativity bias, is the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.

Unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful or traumatic events have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.

This bias probably evolved as a survival technique. Assuming the worst of a situation that turns out not to be dangerous is much safer than not expecting danger that turns out to be present.

This psychological phenomenon explains why bad first impressions can be so difficult to overcome and why past traumas can have such long lingering effects. In almost any interaction, we are more likely to notice negative things and later remember them more vividly.

Brands can utilise negativity bias to their own advantage, and also to the detriment of competing brands, both in-store and online.

  1. Negative stimuli – Shoppers will pay more attention to and react more strongly to negative stimuli. Kills all known germs dead!
  2. Negative memories – Shoppers tend to remember negative events more than positive ones. So as a brand you can tap into these memories, but do so with caution
  3. Bad news sells – It’s a fact that shoppers cannot help but pay more attention to negative headlines, on POS, on pack and online.

The negativity bias can have a powerful impact on shopping behaviour, and being aware of it means that you can take steps to create more engaging and memorable brand touchpoints

By understanding what the mere-exposure effect is and how it works, your brand can develop a significant advantage. More exposure leads to familiarity, which leads to comfortability, which leads to more brand preference and sales uplifts.

About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

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