If bad is stronger than good what can we do about it?

I’ve been reading an old article that remains extremely interesting – it is an academic paper dating back to 2001 titled Bad Is Stronger Than Good.

The authors note that:

“The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes.

… Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. “

This has profound importance for all of our interactions with family, co-workers, customers, and just about anyone we meet. According to the article a ratio of five goods to every bad is required to minimise the effects of the bad.

From a customer service perspective this means that for every negative impression it is five times harder to make a good impression. Applying some sort of cost/benefit analysis to that idea would likely show that bad impressions are expensive to correct.

The research indicated that “positive independent variables affected positive dependent variables, whereas negative independent variables affected negative dependent variables” or “more simply, good affects good, whereas bad affects both bad and good.”

The authors were even able to put a number on the impact:

“Good can overcome bad by force of numbers. To maximize the power of good, these numbers must be increased. This can be done by creating more goods. For example, in a romantic relationship each partner can make an effort to be nice to the other consistently. Such small acts of kindness are important for combating the bads that will typically occur. Indeed, if Gottman (1994) is correct, the ratio should be at least five goods for every bad.”

This is fascinating stuff and real food for thought. When I start to put it together with some of the other ideas that came up at Social Innovation BarCamp recently there are very good grounds to change thinking, behaviour and actions.

Article reference: Bad Is Stronger Than Good by Roy F. Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer, and Kathleen D. Vohs; Review of General Psychology 2001. Vol. 5. No. 4. 323-370, download PDF here