Is COVID Using Your Negativity Bias to Destroy You Emotionally?

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What demographic seems to be the most worried about COVID?

Among my acquaintances, liberal millennials and the last strands of the X-generation seem to be most concerned. Basically, liberals in the 30-48-year-old range.

There is, of course, no consistent rule, but hands down, people in my age bracket (I’m 54), especially those who tend to be conservative, are far less concerned about it. We also know that the kids (under age 30) seem hardly phased by concerns about the disease.

Negativity Bias

“We pay more attention to unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, and sadness because they’re simply more powerful than the agreeable sort.” Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.

There has been nothing about this disease that is constant. The “experts” and governmental authorities have flip-flopped wildly and flailed away at the disease like they have any clue what it’s all about, only to have their policies and conclusions proven wrong months later.

But I think there is one constant about COVID: It’s negative.

Can we all—leftists, rightists, pro-mask-lockdowners, anti-mask-lockdowners—agree on that point?

COVID sucks.

Fair enough?

It follows that, if you’re thinking about COVID, you are thinking about something negative.

And if you’re thinking about something negative, you’re “in a bad place,” intellectually and emotionally.

And yet, we tend to dwell in that bad place.

That’s the wickedness of negativity bias. “The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism to give priority to bad news.” Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

COVID puts negativity bias on steroids. Everything is falling apart, everything sucks, there’s nothing to look forward, and I might die!

To make it worse, the news is relentless. The media has done everything to make the disease sound worse than it really is, in order to reinforce the government’s narrative that we need drastic measures. The media (not without reason) doesn’t want to report any good news, for fear that the “alt-right” and rednecks will use it to ignore prudent public safety measures.

If you’re already allowing yourself to be roiled in negativity bias, it’s a terrible, self-reinforcing, combination. In the words of Philip Viana, writing at LifeHack and author at burnthenegative.com:

People have a distorted view of the world when they are in a negative state of mind. It becomes a cycle where negative thoughts reinforce negative emotions, which in turn produces negative actions. If the cycle is not broken, and left to run uninterrupted, it inevitably has a detrimental physical and mental effect on the person experiencing the spin. In addition, if these cycles spin often enough, they can lead to clinical depression and anxiety.

Enter optimism

The best weapon against negativity bias is obviously optimism.

Optimism, in fact, might be the best weapon in life, period.

Optimists are normally cheerful and happy, and therefore popular; they are resilient in adapting to failures and hardships, their chances of clinical depression are reduced, their immune system is stronger, they take better care of their health, they feel healthier than others and are in fact likely to live longer.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Peak optimism occurs at age 55. That alone might account for why folks in the fifties tend to be less concerned about COVID than younger people. Optimism is a huge weapon against negativity bias in general and, therefore, against COVID thinking, which is (again) negativity bias on steroids.

By engaging in positive thoughts, the reinforcing and tautological tendency of the negativity bias described by Philip Viana is broken.

But people in their 40s tend to be more optimistic than people in their 20s, so that doesn’t account for the intense fear I see among my acquaintances in their 40s compared to people in their 20s, but I think the relative optimism is drastically outweighed by the reckless short-term thinking that is endemic to youth.

Enter politics

And now throw politics into the mix.

There’s one thing that everyone ought to understand: Leftist politics is negative. This doesn’t mean Leftism is correct or incorrect, but its foundational premise is that the world sucks and can be better.

Dissatisfaction with the way things are is the sine qua non of Leftism. Negativity is built into its ideological DNA, as it were.

Now, Leftism also comes with a dose of optimism: the prospect that things, through political action, can become better.

And that’s important, but it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that a general disposition of dissatisfaction sits at liberalism’s core. Moreover, it is dissatisfaction now. It can be ameliorated by optimistic thoughts about how the dissatisfaction might be eliminated through political action, but that’s all in the future.

In the now (the only mental state worth anything), the liberal is dissatisfied.

And, therefore, the liberal is negative.

Throw on top of the liberal the negativity bias on steroids that is COVID news, and you have a terrible combination. And then toss into the mix that folks in their 30s and 40s tend to be less optimistic in general than folks in their 50s and 60s?

Yikes. It’s no wonder there’s a pretty wide political divide on this subject.