Thursday, February 9, 2012

Negativity comes naturally to us; is there a lesson here for more effective persuasion?

People are fond of saying "try to be more positive." When I hear that, I often smile to myself thinking that the speaker doesn't realize the irony in her implicit acknowledgement that there's really nothing to be positive about so we've got to instead muster a good attitude.  Well, it turns out that from a neuro-psychological standpoint, that's pretty close to the truth.  According to this article from Psychology Today, we are all programmed with a "negativity bias."  This negativity bias - bad emotions are more powerful and longlasting than "positive" ones - is what helped keep the species alive back in the caveman days.  Fear is our most  powerful and evolutionary important emotion because it helped us avoid threats and danger that enabled us to pass our genes along to the next generation.  The negativity bias is related to this in that it helps us remember the bad experiences longer and more vividly than the good ones.  "The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. That's why researchers have found that animals, including humans, generally learn faster from pain (alas) than pleasure." 

Does this hold lessons for how best to pitch legal arguments to better achieve the desired result?  For example, there's a general equitable principle that the law abhors a forfeiture.  Is that based in some primal, neuro-psychological fear of loss?  Is your argument more likely to persuade the decision-maker if it can be cast in terms of the negative consequences to your client? Is that why those "parade of horribles" arguments, though hackneyed, often work?  If we can emphasize the bad things that will occur (whether to our client or "society") if the  judge doesn't rule our way, are we more likely to win the case?

Who knows?  But this ongoing series from Psychology Today certainly makes interesting food for thought.

Hat tip to the Business Insider.


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Self-help gurus, psychologists, and personal and business coaches tell you that you must maintain a positive attitude if you want to be successful in the world.

Posted by: Joy | Apr 2, 2012 8:14:34 PM

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