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The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It

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"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 Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it's mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This "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 Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it's mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people's moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics. Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn't find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature. Our brain's negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today's media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisismongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed--and vote for--the voices telling us the world is going to hell. But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it's harmful and employ that power when it's beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use. As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what's wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right--and how to make it still better.


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"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 Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it's mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This "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 Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it's mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people's moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics. Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn't find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature. Our brain's negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today's media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisismongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed--and vote for--the voices telling us the world is going to hell. But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it's harmful and employ that power when it's beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use. As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what's wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right--and how to make it still better.

30 review for The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It

  1. 4 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    https://www.spectator.co.uk/2020/02/t...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Great instructive book especially for our gloom and doom times. Tierney writes with compassion and insight about the instinctive ways we veer toward the negative, and how we can consciously choose otherwise. The book could be a life-saver for all sorts of relationships, including the relationship we all have with our selves.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    I’ve loved the work of Roy Baumeister for a while, so I’ve been anticipating this book and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve always been fascinated with the problem we all face of negativity bias. This book does a great job explaining it in all aspects of our lives from relationships, to consuming news, to giving criticism and much more. Best of all, the authors prevent excellent solutions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    Shares some interesting and useful work on psychology which helps augment what I knew from cognitive behavioral therapy. Low rating for the chapters which uncritically relied on Chicago School work and Heritage Foundation scholarship and left me unable to trust much of the rest. While Tierney does a good job in debunking some other single-cause bogeymen for things like bad grades, he then turns right around and accepts the idea that the problem with schools is we want to be too nice to students Shares some interesting and useful work on psychology which helps augment what I knew from cognitive behavioral therapy. Low rating for the chapters which uncritically relied on Chicago School work and Heritage Foundation scholarship and left me unable to trust much of the rest. While Tierney does a good job in debunking some other single-cause bogeymen for things like bad grades, he then turns right around and accepts the idea that the problem with schools is we want to be too nice to students instead of looking at how the problems he describes are combined with systemic defunding, racism, etc. He doesn't even seem to notice how the racial achievement gap between students coincides with the 90s shift in policing/jails after the crime bill and how the upping of the war on drugs affected home lives and families, as well as schools and systems. That's just one example. Also cites Pinker. Yikes. Am I being a classic example of the mean reviewer trying to sound smart? Maybe, but it's also a DNF for me and I wanted to spell out why this book, which has some promising aspects, is also dangerously simplistic and single solution-ey just like some of the ideas he debunks. Some highlights: excellent correction of the misuse of the "bad apple" term, some interesting stuff on online reviews (yes, the irony is not lost on me) and how people can respond, and the power of bad in relationships is worth chewing on. If you find the subject interesting, I would say it's a pretty easy read and you can jump around to focus on areas that interest you -- but keep quite a few grains of salt on hand and think of it as another tool in your mental health box which may come in handy. Edited to add a quote from another reviewer which captures the heart of things for me: "Facebook is NOT better than i fear it is, primarily full of happy memories. Or maybe, to use the authors’ illustration, it only takes a few genocidaire bad apples to spoil the whole barrel of grandchildren’s birthdays." When tools like Facebook are used to promote hatred of immigrants or things like the Rohingya Genocide, it is actually a pretty big deal with lasting damage.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Nice throughly research book. Has good bits of info that made me think about how I go about my own life.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    This book serves as a cross between a synopsis of long held psychological observations and a mix of some techno-optimist reflections pulled from folks like Steven Pinker: that negative, or “bad”, thoughts can be overwhelming and that in actuality the world is a much better place that we think it to be. A good number of examples are given in the first few sections to back up this thesis. Fair enough. It reads for the most part like a book that a corporate manager would hand out to their This book serves as a cross between a synopsis of long held psychological observations and a mix of some techno-optimist reflections pulled from folks like Steven Pinker: that negative, or “bad”, thoughts can be overwhelming and that in actuality the world is a much better place that we think it to be. A good number of examples are given in the first few sections to back up this thesis. Fair enough. It reads for the most part like a book that a corporate manager would hand out to their underlings to read and absorb as there are some tidbits about how being positive can serve one well in business sectors such as the service industry. It’s all pretty innocuous until it goes off the rails at the end and there’s a longish section about how the concern over nicotine addiction has been totally overblown – it’s just that pesky ‘negative’ thinking and that the harms of smoking are all in the tar. Wait, what?!? And then there’s the doubling down on the twisted observation made on GMO’s: while GMO’s might not be as harmful as their fiercest opponents make them out to be, the unthoughtful brushing asides of all concerns comes across as really petty in its expression here. And finally putting Georg Gilder on a pedestal is just wrong: most of his overrated predictions turned out to be bunk. Thankfully it’s not overlong.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    Being a pessimist, I wanted to enjoy this book and probably find some useful strategies. The prologue was good and I enjoyed the Felix Baumgartner bit and how he handled his fears when jumping from the stratosphere, but after that it went into religion in the US and I got too bored to continue. I also knew there would be business talk, which is an instant put down for me. Did not finish.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Truce

    This book was very well-researched and most of the information was pretty fascinating. The chapters on relationships, the brain's inner demon, and the Pollyanna principle were probably the most useful for readers, and as a self-help book, the main takeaway seems to be to limit your exposure to negativity and just generally be aware of the negativity bias. Some of the middle chapters -- the ones on parenting, the workplace, and online reviews -- felt like they belonged to different books, and This book was very well-researched and most of the information was pretty fascinating. The chapters on relationships, the brain's inner demon, and the Pollyanna principle were probably the most useful for readers, and as a self-help book, the main takeaway seems to be to limit your exposure to negativity and just generally be aware of the negativity bias. Some of the middle chapters -- the ones on parenting, the workplace, and online reviews -- felt like they belonged to different books, and they seemed almost counterintuitive to the book's thesis. Tierney and Baumeister could write another book entirely on how business leaders can apply this stuff to their companies (applied to your own life, the advice is basically, "don't mess up in an interview"). But I was mostly concerned with some of the case studies they included with regards to education in minority communities. I'd take the section on parenting with a grain of salt. Also, this book kind of straddles a fine line between "Things are not as bad as we think they are" and "Everything is totally fine!" and it's hard to know where very real issues like climate change and the rise of fascism fall here. The Crisis Crisis chapter is *sort of* about this, and it helps put things in perspective, but the takeaways from that chapter basically involve asking politicians and the entire media landscape to change, and are not very encouraging.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    This book was not what I expected, but I really liked it. I expected it to focus on why the news is so negative. It eventually did that but it did a lot more. It also gave a lot of good ideas to keep from being overwhelmed by bad news and doomsday predictions. The all day news cycle overwhelms us with bad news, but so do educators, government bureaucrats and even our friends and family. Things are much much better than people think. They just can’t fight their way through the noise and fog to This book was not what I expected, but I really liked it. I expected it to focus on why the news is so negative. It eventually did that but it did a lot more. It also gave a lot of good ideas to keep from being overwhelmed by bad news and doomsday predictions. The all day news cycle overwhelms us with bad news, but so do educators, government bureaucrats and even our friends and family. Things are much much better than people think. They just can’t fight their way through the noise and fog to see it. Too bad. Good book

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    An intriguing premise — our minds react to threats (bad) much more than to good. The power of bad is in the disproportionate way that our minds handle it. The authors take on the implications of this in several areas. Some, like relationships and management, I found convincing and will try out in my own life. No more criticism in a s**t sandwich. Others, like bad news and social media were wandering and unpersuasive. Facebook is NOT better than i fear it is, primarily full of happy memories. Or An intriguing premise — our minds react to threats (bad) much more than to good. The power of bad is in the disproportionate way that our minds handle it. The authors take on the implications of this in several areas. Some, like relationships and management, I found convincing and will try out in my own life. No more criticism in a s**t sandwich. Others, like bad news and social media were wandering and unpersuasive. Facebook is NOT better than i fear it is, primarily full of happy memories. Or maybe, to use the authors’ illustration, it only takes a few genocidaire bad apples to spoil the whole barrel of grandchildren’s birthdays. The book is full of references to studies and well-noted. In sum, I read the first half taking notes and the second half quickly. I recommend the same.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joonas Kiminki

    A very insightful book about the negativity effect that affects how we interpret the world. Well written, on point and overall a pleasure to read. The book contains a nice array of examples and 'case studies', and to my surprise, the stories were not all familiar and cited in various other books I've read. I would gladly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding (or willing to improve skills in dealing with) other people, relationships, leadership, parenting, online communities, A very insightful book about the negativity effect that affects how we interpret the world. Well written, on point and overall a pleasure to read. The book contains a nice array of examples and 'case studies', and to my surprise, the stories were not all familiar and cited in various other books I've read. I would gladly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding (or willing to improve skills in dealing with) other people, relationships, leadership, parenting, online communities, and the media. Also, if you have a nagging feeling that the world is going to hell and would like a new perspective, it's on these pages!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alja

    Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to potential threats, so it's no wonder that bad things have such a powerful effect on our lives. Throughout the book, the authors explore how bad things mess up our relationships and priorities in different circumstances. Some of the chapters also provide practical advice that can help you avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings in both personal and professional relationships. To be fair, most of the research presented in the book isn't new, and the Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to potential threats, so it's no wonder that bad things have such a powerful effect on our lives. Throughout the book, the authors explore how bad things mess up our relationships and priorities in different circumstances. Some of the chapters also provide practical advice that can help you avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings in both personal and professional relationships. To be fair, most of the research presented in the book isn't new, and the authors tend to jump to conclusions that support their point of view too quickly without acknowledging the bigger picture. Despite these shortcomings, I do think the book does a decent job of demonstrating how important it is to recognize when bad things have a disproportionately large effect on our thoughts and actions. Becoming aware of the power of bad certainly is the first step in reclaiming some of its power!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dragonfly

    Overall, I liked this book. I gave it four stars because of the power of bad - maybe the boring and repetititve parts had stronger impact on my impression than they should have. :) Somehow I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the rest of it, the stories and topics were more engaging for me. There was only one topic where I were not thoroughly convinced: education and motivating students. The data presented in the book is completely conclusive, the idea that punishment, feedback on bad Overall, I liked this book. I gave it four stars because of the power of bad - maybe the boring and repetititve parts had stronger impact on my impression than they should have. :) Somehow I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the rest of it, the stories and topics were more engaging for me. There was only one topic where I were not thoroughly convinced: education and motivating students. The data presented in the book is completely conclusive, the idea that punishment, feedback on bad performance or even failing can facilitate learning is credible. On the other hand, I miss the other side of the story. Educating people effectively (especially children) is not a this-or-that decision. Incentives act like a system, it is about founding a balance between rewards when earned and critics or feedback when needed. Many student lacks self-esteem, self-efficacy and engagement because of constant failures, and this problem can not be solved only by punishing them even more. (I am planning to read about this topic more, but at the moment, I think that punishments do not have a long lasting effect - if you remove the punishment, the previously diminished behavior will return because you have not solved the root of the problem). The topic of relationships and the negativity effect was a well-written one. Also, I enjoyed the storiy of Felix Baumgartner even more. It was a solid read, which I recommend to anyone who is interested to psychology and decision making.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I would give the majority of the book a higher rating. Fully explores the power of bad in different settings such as relationships, religion, education, and business. Some great ideas on how to frame certain situations to overcome the effects of negativity. However, the last two chapters of politically charged tirades reduced my rating. Can't help but wonder how the authors feel about the "social stupidity" that prevents the "safe" vaping from replacing smoking now that all the vaping related I would give the majority of the book a higher rating. Fully explores the power of bad in different settings such as relationships, religion, education, and business. Some great ideas on how to frame certain situations to overcome the effects of negativity. However, the last two chapters of politically charged tirades reduced my rating. Can't help but wonder how the authors feel about the "social stupidity" that prevents the "safe" vaping from replacing smoking now that all the vaping related illnesses have come to light.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Kathreen

    Great book explaining how the effect of bad always has more impact on our lives then good. On the good side is how a bad lesson teatches us better then a good experience. In today's environment, one bad decision can ruin your career. You need to learn that passion before you make that mistake. It also explains why young people seem much more pessimistic then my generation. They are surrounded by negative messages all day by social media, 24 hour news and no interpersonal relationships to give it Great book explaining how the effect of bad always has more impact on our lives then good. On the good side is how a bad lesson teatches us better then a good experience. In today's environment, one bad decision can ruin your career. You need to learn that passion before you make that mistake. It also explains why young people seem much more pessimistic then my generation. They are surrounded by negative messages all day by social media, 24 hour news and no interpersonal relationships to give it prospective. I agree with the author that we all need to go on a negativity diet?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This was a really interesting read - some really interesting studies are used, and this book covers a lot of ground around how negativity is powerful in the human psyche. I always love positive psychology - it was my favorite course in college! And an added surprise - Chapter 1 focuses on a case study that involves none other than my high school's football coach! Definitely recommend as an interesting and useful quick read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lili Kim

    Notable points: 4:1 ratio Just be good enough, don't strive for perfection (hard for Virgos!) Rewrite your narrative Be nostalgic of good memories, but don't compare them to your present "Being able to hold your tongue rather than say something nasty or spiteful will do much more for your relationship than a good word or deed."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    The good, the bad, and the blah. repetitive of other books I've read. new, interesting, and useful information just sounding wrong. I can't say for sure until I check their research, conclusions, sample size, etc. but it just doesn't seem plausible and goes against everything everything else I've heard and researched The good, the bad, and the blah.  ⅓ repetitive of other books I've read.  ⅓ new, interesting, and useful information ⅓ just sounding wrong. I can't say for sure until I check their research, conclusions, sample size, etc. but it just doesn't seem plausible and goes against everything everything else I've heard and researched

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alice Abernathy

    Scientific explanation of why our brain is more receptive to negative events/ideas than positive ones. Certainly explains why negative political ads work. Asserts that it takes 4 positive experiences to counteract one bad experience. Gives suggestions for countering the bad stuff.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kirk Johnson

    This book is hard to describe - it's all over the place, and if that sort of thing bothers you maybe stay away, but I enjoyed the aspect of never being quite sure where my footing was. For me it ranged from being personally very helpful to technically useful to coldly fascinating.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Vignesh Ramachandran

    Fascinating book on the power of our negativity bias. There is definitely more good than bad in this world. The only thing I really didn’t appreciate was the authors’ overly pessimistic view of journalists, which I think contributes to societal negativity itself.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zöe Yu

    I liked the book, in general, it pointed out a lot of thinking patterns, fallacies people tend to have. It solved some long haunting questions in my mind, scientific based with case studies, also suitable for business use.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hoda Amin

    This book is exactly what I was looking for Thank you I appreciate your effort

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nichole

    Really more like 3.5 stars. Found the first half of the book more instructive and useful than the second half.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was exactly the book I needed to counteract a gloomy-seeming January. Fascinating and useful. Highly recommend!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Tyson

    I think the author overstated his thesis.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dahlgren General Library

    DA100000030043

  28. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    3.5

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nitisha Bandor

  30. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Brkovich

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