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The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It Hardcover – December 31, 2019
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**A Leadership Now Best Leadership Book of 2019**
“Provocative…the authors are shrewd about the ways in which negativity can pollute both intimate relationships and large groups. They also show that bad experiences can be instructive, using stories to humanize a subject that could otherwise be dry.”—The Economist
“In their new book, The Power of Bad, bestselling authors John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister offer a rule of thumb to help you reach any goal you set your mind to.”—Carmine Gallo, Forbes
“In John Tierney and Roy Baumeister’s new book, The Power of Bad, we learn about fascinating research on the negativity bias that illustrates its power over us…Their book is full of unexpected surprises about human nature, paired with a nice dose of humor.”— Greater Good Magazine
“We all have an inner Cassandra, Eeyore, Grumpy, Sad Sack, Mr. Worry, Nervous Nellie, and Gloomy Gus. This fascinating look at the negativity bias by one of our most creative psychologists and liveliest science writers can enlighten your understanding of human nature, restore balance to your world view, and yes, cheer you up.”—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now
“Tierney and Baumeister show—across many domains—that people learn more from setbacks and penalties than from successes and rewards. So what would happen if parents and educators ignored the evidence and systematically ‘protected’ kids from negative experiences? This brilliant book shows how one simple principle can improve education, mental health, relationships, leadership, and organizations. Everyone will benefit from reading it, especially those trying to raise, educate, or employ members of Gen Z.” —Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, bestselling authors of The Coddling of the American Mind
“This book is gold. By conquering the brain’s primal impulse to focus on the bad, we can all build stronger relationships and enjoy happier lives.”—Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love
"The most important book at the borderland of psychology and politics that I have ever read."—Martin E. P. Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at that University of Pennsylvania and author of Learned Optimism
“The Power of Bad is that rare book that captures a broad swath of human thinking and behavior in one overarching and compelling thesis: The negative has a larger impact on us than the positive. That is an observation with wide-ranging implications for just about everything, including relationships, parenting, marketing, motivation, and management. Baumeister and Tierney show how you can harness this fundamental aspect of human psychology to your benefit – turning the power of bad into a force for good.”—Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., author of iGen
“Blood, boils, death, and darkness: Why does bad always loom so much larger than good? Blame the design of the human mind. In their fascinating new book, Tierney and Baumeister explain why the things we like the least affect us the most, and how we can use this fact to our advantage. THE POWER OF BAD is just damn good!” – Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness
About the Author
Roy F. Baumeister, the coauthor of Willpower, is a research psychologist at the University of Queensland who studies why normal adults think, feel, and act as they do. He is especially known for his work on self and identity; the negativity effect; social rejection and the need to belong; self-control; self-esteem; and how people find meaning in life.
- Publisher : Penguin Press (December 31, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594205523
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594205521
- Item Weight : 1.2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #408,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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There are many examples of the negativity bias in action. A negative incident at work or a thoughtless comment in a marital spat may be very difficult to live down. One flub in a job interview may be fatal, even though the rest of the interview went well. There is a perception of an escalating epidemic of gun violence, yet statistics show we’re more likely to be killed by bathroom slips and falls. People complain they can’t make ends meet, yet our society is enjoying unprecedented prosperity. A few negative on-line reviews for a hotel can cancel out the praise of other patrons. Football coaches could improve their chances if they rethought the strategy of routinely punting on 4th down. Unwarranted concerns about the intentions of other parties lead nations into disastrous wars that could have been honorably avoided. Etc.
And there are good reasons for the negativity bias, in that our forbears were putting their lives at risk by failing to heed troubling signs that could warn of impending disaster. In the modern world, with our vastly improved technology, such genuinely existential threats are statistically less significant.
So if the negativity bias contributes to unfortunate or at least sub-optimal results, what can be done about it? One answer is that things will eventually come back into balance if there is a preponderance of good results over bad, and research indicates a favorability ratio of two or three to one may suffice for that purpose (a “rule of four” is suggested to provide a margin of safety). That’s not to say a concern about failures is inappropriate, but we don’t want to be obsessed with them.
The lapse of time can be helpful, because the human mind tends to soften bad memories in hindsight while accentuating the positive. Experience is a great teacher as well. If it’s not your “first rodeo,” you will probably be better able to put the risks and rewards in perspective.
A special challenge is the “crisis crisis,” meaning apocalyptical theories – which typically involve a fear that favorable circumstances won’t last because we’re going to run out of something. Some examples: human population increase will outstrip our ability to grow food, leading to mass starvation (Thomas Malthus at the start of the Industrial Revolution, which ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity) – peak oil (growing consumption of oil will outstrip our ability to find and develop petroleum reserves, resulting in a catastrophic run-up in prices and economic collapse) – manmade global warming (CO2 emissions from the burning will lead to a catastrophic increase in global temperatures).
Such theories typically favor the interests of the proponents, but they may not prove helpful for society generally. “Because the Crisis Crisis is a collective-action problem, the typical individual has no incentive to debunk the doomsayers or resist the growth of power in Washington, while journalists and lobbyists and the rest of the crisis industry have every incentive to keep stoking fears. They can’t be expected to give up their jobs voluntarily.”
But we could at least reward politicians when they speak rationally about risk, encourage analysts who put problems in perspective, and find ways to cut the profits of doomsaying.
Snopes.com is praised for disproving many urban legends (personally, I don’t think the site is as impartial as it’s said to be); perhaps similar depositories could be established for prophecies of doom (easier said than done, apostates are not necessarily appreciated).
When there’s supposedly a huge problem requiring immediate action to avoid catastrophe, consider appointing a commission to study the matter while the anxiety level subsides. More deliberate action – fewer mistakes.
And please, no more of these terrorist memorials and nonstop publication of the terrorist actions that give the terrorists what they wanted, “eternal glory.”
In my view, this book does a better job of documenting the power of bad than demonstrating how to make good win in the end. My overall rating is three stars.
--- Martin E.P. Seligman
John Tierney is a journalist. He is a columnist at the New York Times writing for the Times Op-Ed page and Findings science column. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Discover, Esquire, Health, National Geographic Traveler, New York, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone. He is a contributing editor to City Journal. Tierney describes himself as a contrarian and identifies himself as a libertarian. He co-wrote Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength with Roy Baumeister.
Roy Baumeister is a social psychologist whose topics of research include the following:
• The self
• Irrationality and self-defeating behavior
• The need to belong
• Culture and human sexuality
• Free will
• Erotic plasticity
He is the author of fifteen books including:
• Is There Anything Good About Men? How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men
• Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
• Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood
• Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty
In 1997, Baumeister presented at an Michigan Psychology Association Conference about his book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.
To give you an idea of Baumeister’s approach to research, I quote from his book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty:
In the social sciences, ideas are cheap but facts are precious. I sought to build a theory based on all the facts and findings I could gather...My goal in writing this book was to encourage, seduce, and perhaps trick you into seeing events from the perspective of the perpetrators of evil.
In their new book The Power of Bad, Tierney and Baumeister, rely on facts and findings in psychological research gathered over the past twenty years, that informs us of the universal tendency for bad events or emotions to affect us much more strongly than positive ones. This finding is called the negativity effect or negativity bias.
Our negativity bias evolved as a survival mechanism. The hunter-gatherers who passed on their genes were the ones who paid more attention to threats (dangerous animals; poisonous foods) rather than the good things in life.
These authors catalogue, in their words all the harms that stem from the negativity effect, all the mistaken judgments, wrong-headed beliefs, the overwhelming perceptions of pessimism in human progress, and needless acrimony and social stupidities that fill our minds.
Doom and gloom pervade our world view even though the evidence for progress --- doubling of life expectancy since the early 1900’s, for example, is everywhere. (see Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now. The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, 2018.) Pinker provides 70 charts that document human progress in such areas as poverty, education, and crime. See also Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Factfulness. Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World --- And Things Are Better Than You Think (2018).
At the1998 American Psychological Association meeting in San Francisco, Martin Seligman, the President of APA in 1998, introduced the powerful idea that the negativity bias was distorting the profession of psychology and he started the field of Positive Psychology. Psychologists have learned much about depression, anxiety and trauma, and little about our capacity for happiness and resilience. For example, few people had heard of the concept of post-traumatic growth, an outcome of stress that is much more common that post-traumatic stress. Most people who experience trauma feel the experience has made them stronger.
Tierney’s and Baumeister’s comprehensive review of research covers a wide swath of topics, findings and questions affected by the negativity bias. Here are some:
• Should football teams punt or not to punt on the fourth down?
• How can your partner or friend or child be so selfish and so blind to your virtues --- Why don’t they appreciate you?
• How do you respond to your partner when they do things that annoy you?
• What are the conscious and unconscious mental strategies to minimize the negativity bias?
• How to deliver bad news?
• To motivate people, what works better, the carrot or the stick?
• Sex and aggression are intense biological urges, but what about the need to belong?
• How should we deal with “bad apples” in the work place?
• What are some ways to handle negative on-line reviews?
• What is the Pollyanna Principle and why is the principle our natural weapon against bad?
• Research has shown that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. How does nostalgia counteract loneliness and anxiety?
• What is the future of good?
• What is the low-bad diet?
Tierney and Baumeister are convinced that the biggest problem of all, the greatest obstacle to freedom and prosperity, is the exploitation of people’s negative bias by crisis mongers. Of course, we need the facts, not always easy to get.
Long before we had the internet, 24-hour cable news, and twitter, in 1918, H.L. Mencken described public discourse as a “combat of crazes” and diagnosed the fundamental problem in politics and public policy. “The whole aim of practical politics,” Mencken wrote, “is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
The ideology of the crisis mongers – across the political spectrum --- promote and exploit the same cognitive biases. The politicians are experts, with the help of the media, in spreading alarms about terrorists, immigrants, crime, artificial intelligence, and environmental catastrophes. We tend to look at the past through rose colored glasses --- “When I was a kid…” lamenting a change --- many experts predicted dire consequences, for example, with the introduction of the car, the phone, the television, movies and more. Our media is filled with merchants of bad, especially the crisis mongers of technology.
In the nineteenth century, the New York Times complained that electric lights would injure retinas; British doctors warned that riding a train would cause brain damage. We hear alarmists telling us about the dangers of mobile phones, and genetically modified foods. Perhaps you remember the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, the bestselling author of The Population Bomb, and The End of Affluence, who in 1970 feared that four billion people including sixty-five million Americans would meet their death in the “great-die-off,” of the 1980s. I could go on and on about esteemed politicians and scientists articulating future crises that never were.
Our efforts to solve problems have too many times made problems worse. America’s long war on drugs, for example, has led to a huge increase in drug overdoses and deaths. A discussion on the use of opioids prescriptions has made it much harder for cancer patients to get proper treatment for their pain, but has not stopped others from abusing opioids. The typical victim of a fatal overdose of opioids is not someone who comes out of the hospital with some pain pills, but someone with a history of substance abuse --- alcohol and recreational drugs --- often a history of mental illness, who obtained the pain medication illegally and died by combining the pain pills with alcohol, cocaine, heroin or other dangerous drugs.
Top reviews from other countries
But then makes unsupported claims about education and disasters.
It extrapolates his theorum to non sensical claims and anti scientific statements, becomming a dangerous rant against science.
Untimately I cannot recommend it - as the last few chapters are completely unreadable. Which is a shame really, as the first few chapters are very interesting.
Our brains are wired to focus on the bad, that is why we are devasted by one bad comment even when it is sandwiched between lavish praise.. Citing the work of Paul Rozin he makes the illustration that a little spoon of tar ruins the barrel of honey, but a little spoon of honey does not improve the barrel of tar. A single event can scar people for years-trauma. But no single good event has such lasting impact. The concept of loss aversion also hints as to the power and reality of negativity bias. The birdy bogey trade off in Golf is another yet illustration of how we have so seamlessly internalized these biases. But he author does indicate and provide stratagems and tactics that can be used to somewhat mitigate to power of negative bias. Things like understanding the positivity Ratio and the peak end rule are ways that one can control this impulse.
The book is a little repetitive in places but overall well presented and convincingly argued. I was going through a terrible health crisis with my son as I was reading this book and I could see in real time how he and I were catastrophizing. It helped in diminishing this impulse and for this reason I highly recommend this book.