The Power of Bad
How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It
Other Editions of This Title:
Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisismongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.
As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.
Praise For The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It…
**A Leadership Now Best Leadership Book of 2019**
“Provocative…the authors are shrewd about the ways in which negativity can pollute both intimate relationships and large groups. They also show that bad experiences can be instructive, using stories to humanize a subject that could otherwise be dry.”—The Economist
“In their new book, The Power of Bad, bestselling authors John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister offer a rule of thumb to help you reach any goal you set your mind to.”—Carmine Gallo, Forbes
“In John Tierney and Roy Baumeister’s new book, The Power of Bad, we learn about fascinating research on the negativity bias that illustrates its power over us…Their book is full of unexpected surprises about human nature, paired with a nice dose of humor.”— Greater Good Magazine
“We all have an inner Cassandra, Eeyore, Grumpy, Sad Sack, Mr. Worry, Nervous Nellie, and Gloomy Gus. This fascinating look at the negativity bias by one of our most creative psychologists and liveliest science writers can enlighten your understanding of human nature, restore balance to your world view, and yes, cheer you up.”—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now
“Tierney and Baumeister show—across many domains—that people learn more from setbacks and penalties than from successes and rewards. So what would happen if parents and educators ignored the evidence and systematically ‘protected’ kids from negative experiences? This brilliant book shows how one simple principle can improve education, mental health, relationships, leadership, and organizations. Everyone will benefit from reading it, especially those trying to raise, educate, or employ members of Gen Z.” —Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, bestselling authors of The Coddling of the American Mind
“This book is gold. By conquering the brain’s primal impulse to focus on the bad, we can all build stronger relationships and enjoy happier lives.”—Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love
"The most important book at the borderland of psychology and politics that I have ever read."—Martin E. P. Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at that University of Pennsylvania and author of Learned Optimism
“The Power of Bad is that rare book that captures a broad swath of human thinking and behavior in one overarching and compelling thesis: The negative has a larger impact on us than the positive. That is an observation with wide-ranging implications for just about everything, including relationships, parenting, marketing, motivation, and management. Baumeister and Tierney show how you can harness this fundamental aspect of human psychology to your benefit – turning the power of bad into a force for good.”—Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., author of iGen
“Blood, boils, death, and darkness: Why does bad always loom so much larger than good? Blame the design of the human mind. In their fascinating new book, Tierney and Baumeister explain why the things we like the least affect us the most, and how we can use this fact to our advantage. THE POWER OF BAD is just damn good!” – Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness
Penguin Press, 9781594205521, 336pp.
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
About the Author
Roy F. Baumeister, the coauthor of Willpower, is a research psychologist at the University of Queensland who studies why normal adults think, feel, and act as they do. He is especially known for his work on self and identity; the negativity effect; social rejection and the need to belong; self-control; self-esteem; and how people find meaning in life.