The ways we think and negativity bias

I’ve always been fascinated with the other ways people think. Probably because I used to feel I had some social deficits I attributed to the (false) belief that something was wrong with me and my brain.  I used to think I was too smart for my own good.  I think more accurately, I was too smart for other people.  Their loss.

I really became curious about why I kept thinking I was ‘abnormal’, ‘crazy’, ‘disturbed’.

Only in the past few years, I’ve come to find out I wasn’t abnormal, just an outlier. I am quite normal around other outliers.

My fascination for how other people really think started when I picked up Douglas Hofstatder’s Metamagical Themas some years ago.   It was a dense tome I could not get all the way through (yet), but I really liked the things he talked about.

More recently, I discovered Nikola Tesla.  He had a fantastic mind. People nowadays would probably consider him schizophrenic. However, we can credit alternating current thanks to him. But he often gets forgotten about in lieu of Edison.  I think Tesla was way cooler.   And his Tesla Coil can actually make music.

Temple Grandin wrote Thinking In Pictures, not just about autism and Asperger’s, but covering the different ways of thinking:

  • Visual thinkers, like her, think in photographically specific images.
  • Music and math thinkers think in patterns.
  • Verbal logic thinkers think in word details.

Some people think linearly, others in kind of a mind-mapping sort of way.  It’s very good for creative thinking, so people are actually being taught how.  Some people, like a blogger I’ve recently started talking to, seems to have an inborn talent for mind-mapping.

I used to think in linear streams of thought…but just a LOT of them.  With some occasional intuitive leaps.

Sometimes it calls up fragments of songs that seem to ‘fit’ a particular circumstance.

I’m not really good at thinking about or seeing patterns in my mind’s i *, but I crave them, so I love looking for patterns in nature, and I enjoy hearing patterns in music.

Now, I am able to see more in images, probably because of the playing around in art that I do, and because my brain is exploring new ways of looking at the world.

Imagine a world where your brain is fine the way it is? A little overwhelmed perhaps, but maybe because you haven’t been guided in how to prioritize the information it takes in and the information generates.

Lately, I’ve been thinking in pictures, but not happy pictures –

Images from childhood trauma, details from horrific homicide and sexual assault cases I worked on that didn’t bother me at the time, so emotionally armored I was, and mistakes I had made trying to chase after a little bit of happiness (in the wrong ways).

And these are fragmentary images were coming fast and furious.  Mindfulness techniques have been helping me just stand back and watch them happen, not with any kind of fear or judgment that my experience was wrong, or crazy.  It was just what it was.

And these experiences are temporary (so far), though it’s pretty exhausting.


It has occurred me that I’ve never been taught how to manage the informational deluge coming into my brain, organize it well, nor channel it into productive and meaningful output.

My recent traumas haven’t helped either.

I’ve had to learn by trial and error.

And I’m still learning.

And having to confront negativity bias, as are others struggling and suffering with major damage from the past.  Neuropsycholgist Rick Hanson writes:

“…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.”

We first learn these lessons in childhood.

Evolutionarily speaking, this negativity bias is ‘good’.  It keeps us safe.

Hanson goes on to say:

To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.

Let’s repeat that last line, shall we?

This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.

So, what to do, what to do?  Hanson states:

Be mindful of the degree to which your brain is wired to make you afraid, wired so that you walk around with an ongoing trickle of anxiety (a flood for some) to keep you on alert. And wired to zero in on any apparent bad news in a larger stream of information (e.g., fixing on a casual aside from a family member or co-worker), to tune out or de-emphasize reassuring good news, and to keep thinking about the one thing that was negative in a day in which a hundred small things happened, ninety-nine of which were neutral or positive. (And, to be sure, also be mindful of any tendency you might have toward rose-colored glasses or putting that ostrich head in the sand.)


Additionally, be mindful of the forces around you that beat the drum of alarm -whether it’s a family member who threatens emotional punishment, or in the well-known example, a National Security Advisor (Condoleezza Rice) who warned in 2002 that the smoking gun of evidence for WMDs in Iraq could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. Consider for yourself whether their alarms are valid — or whether they are exaggerated or empty, while downplaying or missing the larger context of opportunities and resources. Ask yourself what these forces could be getting out of beating that scary drum.

I think that’s cool.  Now if I can only challenge my own negativity bias.


* Note:  I realize I typed, my mind’s “i”, instead of mind’s “eye”.  It’s funny, but not really surprising.  Douglas Hofstadter also wrote a book called The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul.


Okay, my mind dump is over.

Gotta get back to real life.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in anxiety, Complex-PTSD, depression, Douglas Hofstadter, Emotional Intelligence, Highly Sensitive Person, Metamagical Themas, Mindfulness, Negativity bias, neuroplasticity, neuroscience, Nikola Tesla, Paper Tiger, Personal growth, Philosophy, PTSD, PTSD triggers, Radical Acceptance, Radical forgiveness, Rick Hansen, Self-directed neuroplasticity, Thomas Edison, Trauma, trauma recovery, Your Amazing Brain. Bookmark the permalink.

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