+ & – : a study in human positendency

despite everything being broken and all, there must be something in us that yearns for (looks toward? hopes in? clings to?) good.

according to wikipedia and a quick ctrl-f search for “positive” and then some:

  • Fading affect bias: A bias in which the emotion associated with unpleasant memories fades more quickly than the emotion associated with positive events.
  • Negativity bias or Negativity effect: Psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories.

seems kinda opposite, but they’re not — just sort of mysterious. the first one describes how, after a negative event (causing, presumably, correspondingly negative emotions), our brains are more likely to allow us to forget those events quickly than they would positive ones. the second one explains that, mysteriously, even though the fading away of the negative was quicker, its recall is also relatively faster/greater/stronger. it’s as if the brain-keeper noticed the negative impact of an event on the brain and quickly worked to buff it away, but the effect of the crash was more damaging (okay, I’ll keep it neutral; more powerful) on the brain, long term. like, a negative event puts the brain in more disarray than do positive ones, so the brain-keeper is called into hyperactivity when it happens, but the impact is harder to completely undo. does that make sense?

notice in the second, “especially those suffering from depression” — and how there’s no such qualifying statement for the first.

  • Overconfidence effect: Excessive confidence in one’s own answers to questions. For example, for certain types of questions, answers that people rate as “99% certain” turn out to be wrong 40% of the time.
  • Planning fallacy: The tendency to underestimate task-completion times.
  • Regressive bias: A certain state of mind wherein high values and high likelihoods are overestimated while low values and low likelihoods are underestimated.
  • Positivity effect: That older adults favor positive over negative information in their memories.

hehe and these are just thrown in for fun, cause somehow they seem less overarching — certainly not everyone suffers from the overconfidence effect — but these are definitely smaller and mebbe sillier ways in which our positive thinking messes with our minds, our lives, our schedules. [sidenote: I guess, though, for any of this to be truly valid, I would have to know to what extent the general human population suffers from each of these biases. ughhhhhhhh sciiiiiiiienceeee.]

and finally, some ways in which our positendency can be kinda scary:

  • Just-world hypothesis: The tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just, causing them to rationalize an otherwise inexplicable injustice as deserved by the victim(s).
  • Egocentric bias: Recalling the past in a self-serving manner, e.g., remembering one’s exam grades as being better than they were, or remembering a caught fish as bigger than it really was.
  • Naïve cynicism: Expecting more egocentric bias in others than in oneself.

why else would we be so prone to keep hoping, in the face of all odds? why, in a world beset by entropy (EVERYTHING IS BREAKINGGGGGGGGGG), do we keep building stuff? why, when time and history will erase everything about the majority of our lives in just a generation or two or three, do we keep striving to “make a difference,” “believe in change,” “yadda yadda”?

and close to home, here: why would I beat myself up about not saying hello to an acquaintance-coworker in the hallway, when I don’t pat myself on the back with an equal-but-opposite fervor every time that I do?

okay, okay, I know the positive-thinking, live-in-the-moment, working-for-the-good-of-now answer to all these, too. but bear with me.

maaaybe it’s cause we’re wired for positivity. for hope. for belief in goodness to prevail, even if none of it seems likely or solid or trustworthy. maybe it’s a piece of Adam/Eve in the garden — the originals who knew no failure. until they did.

p.s. did you  know “positivity” isn’t a word, as accepted by WordPress? it keeps giving me the red squiggles every time I type it out. positivity. positivity. positivity. even if I really misspelled it somewhere in here, I prolly would miss it, cause of these red squiggles.

take that, WordPress!!

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