Velcro-ing to the Positive

There is a cognitive principle that psychiatrists call negativity bias, which has powerful implications for the work we do in schools: with children, and together as adults (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.). I believe an awareness of and active work against this cognitive instinct of ours can shift the sometimes inevitable slumps in mood and perspective, and ultimately create an even richer culture of trust and positivity amongst colleagues and between school and home.

What it boils down to is that our brains are wired to instinctually react to negative stimuli more often than the positive. And not just a little more often: upwards of three times more often. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it,

“The human brain is like Velcro to negative experiences and Teflon to positive ones.”

In fact, research shows that it takes three positive things to counteract one negative. Moreover, this ratio increases to five positive interactions to counteract one negative when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Schools thrive on a foundation of healthy interpersonal relationships: those that exist between colleagues, administration, students, and their families. Our profession involves a thoroughly interwoven web of human connections.

“When it comes to enjoying life and making use of who we are, all of us can; it’s just that some don’t…It’s sometimes referred to as the Snowball Effect, which can remind you of the time you pushed that little ball of snow along, and it got bigger and bigger until it got so big you couldn’t stop it, and it rolled all the way down the hill and flattened the neighbor’s car, and soon everyone was talking about the Huge Snowball that you let get completely out of control…Now the principle can work negatively or positively. It can promote cynicism as easily as it can encourage hope…the important thing is to make it work for yourself and for the benefit of others.” – Benjamin Hoff