Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion

Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion


We hypothesize that there is a general bias, based on both innate predispositions andexperience, in animals and humans, to give greater weight to negative entities (e.g.,events, objects, personal traits). This is manifested in 4 ways: (a) negative potency(negative entities are stronger than the equivalent positive entities), (b) steeper nega-tive gradients (the negativity of negative events grows more rapidly with approach tothem in space or time than does the positivity of positive events, (c) negativity domi-nance (combinations of negative and positive entities yield evaluations that are morenegative than the algebraic sum of individual subjective valences would predict), and(d) negative differentiation (negative entities are more varied, yield more complexconceptual representations, and engage a wider response repertoire). We review evi-dence for this taxonomy, with emphasis on negativity dominance, including literary,historical, religious, and cultural sources, as well as the psychological literatures onlearning, attention, impression formation, contagion, moral judgment, development,and memory. We then consider a variety of theoretical accounts for negativity bias. Wesuggest that 1 feature of negative events that make them dominant is that negative enti-ties are more contagious than positive entities.

Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman
Department of Psychology and Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical ConflictUniversity of Pennsylvania

Personality and Social Psychology Review 2001, Vol. 5, No. 4, 296–320
Copyright © 2001 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc
Negativity Bias