DOI: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0504_2 ISSN:

Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion

Paul Rozin, Edward B. Royzman
  • Social Psychology

We hypothesize that there is a general bias, based on both innatepredispositions and experience, 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 negative gradients (the negativity of negative events grows more rapidly with approach to them in space or time than does the positivity of positive events, (c) negativity dominance (combinations of negative and positive entities yield evaluations that are more negative than the algebraic sum of individual subjective valences would predict), and (d) negative differentiation (negative entities are more varied, yield more complex conceptual representations, and engage a wider response repertoire). We review evidence for this taxonomy, with emphasis on negativity dominance, including literary, historical, religious, and cultural sources, as well as the psychological literatures on learning, attention, impression formation, contagion, moral judgment, development, and memory. We then consider a variety of theoretical accounts for negativity bias. We suggest that 1 feature of negative events that make them dominant is that negative entities are more contagious than positive entities.