Posts Tagged ‘Evolution’

So You Had A Bad Day… Or Did You?

November 20th, 2020 No comments

I wish I hadn’t overslept. Now I’m late to class and I didn’t get to eat breakfast. That reading I meant to finish early this morning? It’s sitting in my backpack, untouched. My socks don’t match, I forgot my hat, and my dorm room is a mess from scrambling around this morning hurrying to get myself together. Today’s going to be the worst day. Or is it?

Some people have a natural tendency to notice the bad over the good. For example, in the situation above, these “bad” things may have happened, but why place so much weight on them? Why let them consume our thoughts, even dictate how the rest of our day will go? It is likely that a few good things happened throughout our day, too, but we sometimes tend not to notice the good as strongly as we notice the bad. Oftentimes, this negativity bias comes into play during our judgement and decision-making processes, causing the experiences we have to feel more negative than they may really be (i.e., I woke up late so now my whole day is ruined) (Ito et al., 1998).

(The bad seems to outweigh the good).

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Bad News Sells: How our ‘Negativity Bias’ chooses Bad over Good

December 27th, 2019 No comments

Think about the last time you had a great day. Just kidding. Think about the last time you had a bad day. Then try and think a little further: was it really all bad, from the moment you got out of bed? Probably not; one bad thing happened, and then the good lunch you had with your friends and the job interview you aced just didn’t seem so important anymore. Or maybe you were at work, and your boss is gave you some well-deserved praise. Then she told you there was one line on your paperwork that needed to be tweaked, and before you knew it, you were beating yourself up for that one mistake for the rest of the week. Or maybe you went home after work and turned on the news. The coverage never surprises you: war, crime, disaster. Maybe you wonder why this is. Your answer? Negative news attracts more consumers (Nguyen & Claus, 2013).

Our brains tend to focus on and prioritize negative information, even when there is just as much (or more) positive information.

If you’ve had a bad day (that with a different perspective, could’ve been a great day), taken criticism a little too personally, or found yourself transfixed by a car accident on the highway, chances are you’ve experienced a cognitive bias called the Negativity Bias. The Negativity Bias refers to how we pay more attention to, and care more about, negative negative information than we do positive information. Read more…

How Survival Instincts Could Help You In Class

November 24th, 2014 1 comment

How good are your survival instincts?

It has been seven scores and sixteen years (or 156 years for people uninterested in the Lincoln reference) since Darwin first outlined “survival of the fittest” in his theory of natural selection and evolution. Even then, the term was taken to apply mostly to animals – and our evolutionary ancestors perhaps, but much less to human beings. Do we care about survival? Definitely; but certainly in a different way than a snake or a hawk might care about survival. Are we selected for? Perhaps, but certainly not in the way peppered moths are selected for in the industrial parts of England. The thing that makes us stand apart from the rest of nature is that other species, for the most part, must adapt to their environments, whereas human beings have made an atrocious name for ourselves for adapting our environments to us.

Thus, nowadays, survival of the fittest, when applied to humans, often takes on a much more socially constructed meaning than the theory it originated from. When an employer chooses a more versatile worker in hopes of getting more work done with fewer employees, we shrug our shoulders at the poor rejectees and say “survival of the fittest”. When someone who is drunk and decides to try and climb a vending machine falls and injures his leg, we laugh and say “survival of the fittest”. The term has come to embody the ideal of being social apt, versatile, and smart enough not to make self-endangering decisions. In any case, for the inhabitants of first world countries who get to sit in class and learn about Darwin, actually having to survive in the wild (as the term was originally about) is no more than a bizarre gag evoked by the flight attendant before a flight across Australia. After all, where is the relevance of “wilderness survival” instincts in a world of supermarkets and movie theaters?

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Does Survival Processing Increase Memory Accuracy?

November 23rd, 2014 2 comments

Have you ever been in a life or death experience? Walked across a bear in the woods? Almost been eaten by a tiger? Gotten in a car crash? Did you find your memory of this event to be clear and accurate, possibly almost like slow motion? Have you made that mistake again, or been more careful in similar settings? Recent studies have shown that the human memory system evolved to afford us a survival advantage (Nairne et al. 2008.) This functional analysis of memory explains that the purpose of memory is to remember the best way to survive. Humans need to accurately remember what situations pose a threat to them so they can successfully avoid those situations in the future.

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Think like a Makeshift MacGyver rather than a Negative Nancy: Exploring the Influences of the Survival-Processing Memory Advantage

May 1st, 2014 1 comment

Imagine that your plane has crashed into the ocean, and you are forced to swim to a deserted island located hundreds of miles away from civilization. All your luggage and the plane’s survival kit have sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and you only have the clothes on your back and the few knickknacks in your pockets. As you sit on the beach exhausted and anxious for a future rescue, you begin to fear that you won’t survive.


Don’t worry! The unfortunate LOST-like situation described above is just an example of the kind of scenario that participants are asked to imagine during the survival-processing paradigm task, which is used to observe some of the complex and adaptive functions of memory. During the task, half of the participants are asked to imagine themselves in a survival type situation like the described plane crash whereas the other half are asked to imagine themselves in a non-survival based situation like moving to a foreign land. While envisioning, all Read more…