Tag Archives: bad is stronger than good

Steven Pinker

[T]he psychological roots of progressophobia run deeper.

The deepest is a bias that has been summarized in the slogan “Bad is stronger than good.” The idea can be captured in a set of thought experiments suggested by Tversky. How much better can you imagine yourself feeling than you are feeling right now? How much worse can you imagine yourself feeling? In answering the first hypothetical, most of us can imagine a bit more of a spring in our step or a twinkle in our eye, but the answer to the second one is: it’s bottomless. This asymmetry in mood can be explained by an asymmetry in life (a corollary of the Law of Entropy). How many things could happen to you today that would leave you much better off? How many things could happen that would leave you much worse off? Once again, to answer the first question, we can all come up with the odd windfall or stroke of good luck, but the answer to the second one is: it’s endless. But we needn’t rely on our imaginations. The psychological literature confirms that people dread losses more than they look forward to gains, that they dwell on setbacks more than they savor good fortune, and that they are more stung by criticism than they are heartened by praise. (As a psycholinguist I am compelled to add that the English language has far more words for negative emotions than for positive ones.)

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, New York, 2018, ch. 4

Tucker Max & Geoffrey Miller

The relationship between fitness and survival creates a deep asymmetry in nature.

It’s why, for women, it’s even more important to be sexually disgusted by ineffectiveness than to be sexually attracted to effectiveness. Effectiveness requires a lot—thousands of genes, hundreds of adaptations, dozens of organs, and millions of neurons working together in awesomely intricate ways to produce sustained, adaptive behavior. But there are an infinite number of ways to be ineffective as a male animal, from being spontaneously aborted as a blastocyst to losing competitions to rivals, and literally every point in between. […]

Thus, apart from cultivating signs of effectiveness, it can be even more important to stop showing signs of ineffectiveness. In most species, in fact, a lot of female choice is about avoiding the bad rather than approaching the good.

Tucker Max & Geoffrey Miller, Mate: Become the Man Women Want, New York, 2015

Adam Smith

What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, who is out of debt, and has a clear conscience? To one in this situation, all accessions of fortune may properly be said to be superfluous; and if he is much elevated upon account of them, it must be the effect of the most frivolous levity. This situation, however, may very well be called the natural and ordinary state of mankind. Notwithstanding the present misery and depravity of the world, so justly lamented, this really is the state of the greater part of men. The greater part of men, therefore, cannot find any great difficulty in elevating themselves to all the joy which any accession to this situation can well excite in their companion.

But though little can be added to this state, much may be taken from it. Though between this condition and the highest pitch of human prosperity, the interval is but a trifle; between it and the lowest depth of misery the distance is immense and prodigious. Adversity, on this account, necessarily depresses the mind of the sufferer much more below its natural state, than prosperity can elevate him above it.

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759, sect. 1, chap. 3