What is Negativity Bias? 

Negativity Bias refers to the brain giving more weight to negative events, even in the presence of equally important positive events. In this sense, bad is stronger than good. 

Example: Let’s say John Doe is running for city mayor in the town he has lived his whole life. Since high school he has volunteered 10 hours a week, donated money and food to local charities, and socialized with the elderly at nursing homes. In the days leading up to the election, it is uncovered that John Doe was caught shoplifting at the age of 18. Despite what he has done to support the community, the shoplifting event will stick in people’s minds because of the Negativity Bias, deterring voters.

Download our Cognitive Bias cheat sheet for your one-page guide to the eight Cognitive Biases that block innovation efforts. 

Download the Cognitive  Bias Cheat-Sheet

Overcoming Negativity Bias During Innovation

At the heart of Ideas To Go is a practice called Forness® Thinking. It neutralizes Negativity Bias by drawing the attention to the positive attributes in an idea. Forness® is derived from the word “for” and is essentially the opposite of “againstness.” While innovating, ideas are thrown around and people’s first instinct is to shut it down with negativity. They tend to acknowledge the idea first, then shut it down using the phrase “Yes, but . . .”  

  • “Yes, but we’ve already tried that.”
  • “Yes, but it costs too much.”
  • “Yes, but we would never do that.”

Forness® Thinking pushes the mind to focus on the positives. The main goal is to determine what you are “for” in an idea—what works or what is good about it. Only after the good parts have been brought forward is it time to discuss the elements that need improvement. Then, when it comes to what might not be working in an idea, use the terminology “I wish . . .” or “How to . . .” This language guides the mind to engage in active problem solving, so as someone is speaking, they are also thinking of solutions. Ideas are thus collaboratively built upon rather than being shut down as soon as they come into existence.

Learn more about Forness® Thinking here.

For a complete reference to the Cognitive Biases that interfere with innovation, read Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral InnovationTMApproach Drives Your Company Forward

What Cognitive Bias Are You?

Take the eight-question quiz to uncover the Cognitive Bias most affecting your ability to innovate. Don't worry, we also provide you with ways to battle each Bias. 

Do You Experience Brainstorming Negativity?

Take this short quiz to find out if you've ever experienced the Negativity Bias during a brainstorming session—you might recognize some of the "Yes, but. . ." statements.

Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.