Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to get unstuck) | Alison Ledgerwood | TEDxUCDavis

Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney Hi everyone. Gosh, I wish I could dance, but I can’t, and you really don’t want me to. So instead I thought I would talk
a little today about how people think. I’m fascinated by this question. I’m a social psychologist, which basically means
I’m a professional people watcher. So, this is what I do; I try to figure out how humans think and how we might be able to think better. Here’s something I noticed
a few years ago about how I seem to think; here’s a typical week in my life, which usually seems to revolve entirely
around publishing papers. So here I am, at maximum of my artistic abilities
as a stick figure, going along at baseline, and a paper gets accepted. I get this rush, this blip of happiness, and then I’m back to baseline
by about lunch time. (Laughter) A few days later,
a paper might get rejected, and that feels pretty awful. And I wait for that blip to end, but somehow I just can’t stop
thinking about it. Here’s the craziest part: even if another paper gets accepted
the next day, well, that’s nice, but somehow I can’t get
that pesky rejection out of my head. So, what is going on here? Why does a failure seem
to stick in our minds so much longer than a success? Together with my colleague Amber Boydstun
in the Political Science Department, I started thinking about this question, this question of, “do our minds
get stuck in the negatives?” We all know intuitively that there are different ways
of thinking about things. The same glass, the saying goes
can be seen as half-full or half-empty. There’s a lot of research
in the social sciences showing that depending on how you describe
the glass to people, as half-full or half-empty, it changes how they feel about it. So if you describe the glass as half-full,
this is called the gain frame, because you’re focusing
on what’s gained, then people like it. But if you describe the same glass
as half-empty, a loss frame, then people don’t like it. But we wondered what happens
when you try to switch from thinking about it one way
to thinking about it another way. Can people shift back and forth, or do they get stuck
in one way of thinking about it? Does one of these labels, in other words,
tend to stick more in the mind? Well, to investigate this question,
we conducted a simple experiment. We told participants in our experiment
about a new surgical procedure, and we randomly assigned them
to one of two conditions. For participants in the first
condition, the first group, we described the surgical
procedure in terms of gains; we said it had a 70% success rate. For participants in the second group, we described the procedure
in terms of losses; we said it had a 30% failure rate. So it’s the exact same procedure, we’re just focusing people’s attention
on the part of the glass that’s full, or the part of the glass that’s empty. Perhaps unsurprisingly,
people like the procedure when it’s described
as having a 70% success rate, and they don’t like it when it’s described
as having a 30% failure rate. But then we added a twist: we told participants in the first group, “You know, you could think of this
as a 30% failure rate.” And now they don’t like it anymore;
they’ve changed their minds. We told participants in the second group, “You know, you could think of this
as a 70% success rate”, but unlike the first group,
they stuck with their initial opinion; they seemed to be stuck in the initial
loss frame that they saw at the beginning of the study. We conducted another experiment. This time we told participants about the current governor
of an important state who is running for re-election
against his opponent. We again had two groups of participants, and we described the current governor’s
track record to them in one of two ways. We said that when the current
governor took office, statewide budget cuts were expected
to affect of about 10,000 jobs, and then half of the participants read that under the current
governor’s leadership 40% of these jobs had been saved. They like the current governor;
they think he is doing a great job. The rest of the participants read that under the current
governor’s leadership, 60% of these jobs had been lost, and they don’t like the current governor;
they think he’s doing a terrible job. But then, once more, we added a twist. For participants in the first group, we reframed the information
in terms of losses, and now they didn’t like
the current governor anymore. For participants in the second group, we reframed the information
in terms of gains, but just like in the first study,
this didn’t seem to matter. People in this group
still didn’t like the current governor. So notice what this means. Once the loss frame
gets in there, it sticks. People can’t go back to thinking
about jobs saved once they thought about jobs lost. So in both of these scenarios actually the current governor gets ousted
in favor of his opponent. At this point we were getting curious:
why does this happen? Could it be that it’s actually
mentally harder for people to convert from losses to gains than it is for them
to go from gains to losses? So we conducted the third study to test how easily people could covert
from one frame to another. This time we told participants, “Imagine there’s been
an outbreak of an unusual disease and six hundred lives are at stake.” We asked participants in one group, “If a hundred lives are saved,
how many will be lost?” And we asked participants
in the other group, “If a hundred lives are lost,
how many will be saved?” So everyone just has to calculate 600 minus 100, and come up
with the answer of 500 but whereas people in one group
have to convert from gains to losses in order to do that, people in the second group
have to convert from losses to gains. We timed how long it took them
to solve this simple math problem, and what we found was that when people had to convert
from gains to losses, they could solve
the problem quite quickly; it took them about 7 seconds on average. But when they had to convert
from losses to gains, well now it took them far longer,
almost 11 seconds. So this suggests that once we think
about something as a loss, that way of thinking about it
tends to stick in our heads and to resist our attempts to change it. What I take away from this research
and from related research is that our view of the world
has a fundamental tendency to tilt toward the negative. It’s pretty easy to go from good to bad,
but far harder to shift from bad to good. We literally have to work harder
to see the upside of things. And this matters. So, think about the economy. Here’s economic well-being
from 2007 to 2010. You can see it tanked,
just like we all remember, and then by late 2010 it has recovered
by most objective measures. But here’s consumer confidence
over the same time period. You can see it tanks
right along with the economy, but then it seems to get stuck. Instead of rebounding
with the economy itself, consumers seem to be psychologically stuck
back there in the recession. So oddly then, it may take more effort
to change our minds about how the economy is doing
then to change the economy itself. On the more personal level,
what this research means to me is that you have to work
to see the up-side. Literally, this takes work,
this takes effort. And you can practice this;
you can train your mind to do this better. There’s research out at UC Davis, showing that just writing
for a few minutes each day about things that you’re grateful for can dramatically boost
your happiness and well-being, and even your health. We can also rehearse good news
and share it with others. We tend to think, right,
that misery loves company, that venting will help get rid
of our negative emotions, that we’ll feel better if we just talk
about how terrible our day was. And so we talk, and we talk, and we talk
about the boss who’s driving us crazy, and that friend who never called us back, and that meeting at work where every little thing
that could go wrong, did. But we forget to talk
about the good stuff. And yet, that’s exactly
where our minds need the most practice. So, my husband who has
this disconcerting habit of listening to what I say
other people should do, and then pointing out that, technically speaking,
I’m a person, too, (Laughter) has taken to listening to me
for about two minutes on days when I come home all grumpy
and complaining about everything, and he listens, and he says, “Okay, but what happened
today that was good?” So I tell him about the student
who came up to me after class with this really interesting,
insightful question, and I tell him about the friend
who emailed me out of the blue this morning just to say, “hello”. And somewhere in the telling,
I start to smile, and I start to think that maybe
my day was pretty decent after all. I think we can also work
in our communities to focus on the upside. We can be more aware
that bad tends to stick. One mean comment can stick
with somebody all day, all week even, and bad tends to propagate itself, right? Somebody snaps at you and you snap back,
and you snap at the next guy, too. But what if the next time
somebody snapped at you, you forgave them? What if the next time you had
a really grumpy waitress, you left her an extra large tip? Our minds may be built
to look for negative information and to hold on to it, but we can also retrain our minds
if we put some effort into it and start to see that the glass may be a little more full
than we initially thought. Thank you. (Applause)

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76 Responses

  1. Nhật Hoàng says:

    I am about to take an important exam and back then, things were out of control , i had to study far into the night , my head was full of negativities but after listening to your talk , i felt more confident , i got my energy back and right now i am fully-armed , ready for an upcoming battle with positive thoughts and may god be with me ❤️

  2. SEF ALCANTARA says:

    Great tall!! Wish I've seen this b4

  3. Mr. C says:

    Lost my lifestyle n investment properties. Stuck for years in depression. STUCK

  4. sparta buddies says:

    Who takes over 10 seconds for 600-100

  5. Fashfrog 14 says:

    Women shouldn't have hair this short. It's really off-putting.

  6. crisanto antiporda says:

    thanks for sharing..

  7. Paddy C says:

    Needing to put more work/effort in order to be thinking, feeling and being more positive reminds me of what I like to call Successful Suffering; making the suffering (effort) worth it. Much like "no pain, no gain".

  8. alwayz hungry 4 knowledge says:

    Thank you so much for the inspiration and for sharing your research, looking for helping humans to see the bright side! ?

  9. Angelia Campbell says:

    i hate ted talk they are terrible

  10. mark broad says:

    Because people want to see worst case

  11. Sakina Laxmidhar says:

    Thank you ??????

  12. Zahid H Khan says:


  13. Norman Smith says:

    Keep the attitude of grattitude.

  14. Jai Prateek says:


  15. Marks Alot says:

    ?. Welcome to the real world. Positive is work…. but worth it.

  16. Jono Slight says:

    Thank you!

  17. CombraStudios says:

    This phenomena heavily influenced my life. I used to get excited about my free-time projects but as soon as one small doubt about the project hit me I started doubting every part of it. I had awesome plans and basically none of them got executed. Those were minor flaws but I feared they'd ruin the whole thing so I actually never started working on them and only carried near-perfect plans in my head. Only I know what could I have accomplished and what all I missed, doubting myself instead.

  18. Jay Charles says:

    Study Wayne Dyer: he had a hard childhood but made it as a teacher PHd also. He taught spirituality as well. Another-Earl Nightingale d 1989, survivor of Pearl Harbor USS Arizona.

  19. Daulton Tawater says:

    I really needed to hear this! Honestly lol im in tearswtf!!.. Thank you so so much!

  20. Mutilator24 says:

    An EXCELLENT talk, thank you!

  21. Ed says:

    hmmmm Rich, white women telling me how to get out of a bad situation…..I'd like to know how bad her situation was…Did she not find the right shoes or was the line too long at the treadmill today? Espresso too cold?

  22. Gabriel J says:

    Such a helpful speech. It is surprisingly hars to change back from losses to gains. The example of academic life really touched me. Even if the best thing happens, you wont be able to fully enjoy it as if that bad thing didnt happen last morning.

  23. Anjas Jati Kesuma says:

    Being positive is required serious work for sure.. ?

  24. Swamy G says:

    The brain has a negative bias. Rick Hanson talks about this in his book Buddha's Brain.

  25. unknown person says:

    0:39 I can totaly relate with this graph..
    i have extremely negative mindset becoz of many failures in my life of 22 years and now it is getting out of control and i need help..
    i cannot talk with my parrents and i have already lost my closed friends, so i am about to finish..

  26. Shriraj S Shetty says:

    Think positive all the time

  27. June Grace says:

    Yup, takes years/decades to build reputation & seconds/minutes to dissolve/destroy

  28. Adnan Aqeel says:

    At this point, I got confused about what does really matter: your content or shouting out loud to get your point across? She anchored her idea with so much ease, making it digestible that even a third grader can catch on. Her communication skill is spot on: calm, composed, collected with a relevant and gliding connection in her words.

  29. random man says:

    you can dance, … you can !

  30. gmodesike says:

    She's Sekc

  31. Sins Greed says:

    Moral of the Story: If you want something good you have to work for it

  32. Alf Tupper says:

    My glass got stolen.

  33. Anders Næss says:

    when someone describes the glass as half empty it gives the assumption that is has been emptied, from a full glass. it has gone from 100% to 50%. so you will get half of what was possible. you will get a temporal understanding that the water is in a state of being emptied, and that is negative, because you would assume that it will soon be emptied even more. when someone describes it as half full it gives the impression that it has never been full, but currently it has gone from zero to 50%. our understanding is that it is in the process of being filled up, and that is a positive and hopeful feeling, because "half full" talk about the action of filling up. "half empty" talk about the action of emptying out. I don't think people process things in a time-freeze snapshot. people are constantly trying to make predictions about the future, to plan their safety, so they will hear the action, not the description.

    the same with the success/failure. we listen to it in a temporal perspective. 70% success reads as it has gone from 0% to 70% and are trending upwards, it is positively hopeful. it is describing the action of succeeding. describing it in the perspective of failure insert the assumption that it is trending towards failures. it has dropped from 100% to 70%. the action of failing. the trend is downwards, and people are expecting it to drop to 60%, to 50% etc.

    In my view what is necessary to understand is that you need to convince people of positive trends, not just reframing of information. both of the 70%/30% flipsides are of course received negatively thumbs-down because they show unstable predictions – the successes and failures are wobbly and shifting, and doesn't promote security or predictability. whereas only informing about the success gives the impression that it has gone linearly from 0% to 70% and are continuing upwards.

  34. -- says:

    Didn't listen… but… cool outfit.

  35. dangermouse2229 TRUMP says:

    Very positive and uplifting I'm a person that struggles with seeing the positive side of things I'm on a personal quest to better myself and the way I see my world

  36. Lil Snooze says:

    It is said "we are more likely to change our minds when we are correct" and I think that has a lot tl due with this.

  37. louise Bernard says:

    Her voice isn't hers.

  38. Jean Foerster says:


  39. Wm Petroff says:

    Your talk makes sense to me. I like the ideal of practicing effort of the good in my life. I'm going to begin with one line a day and work it up. Thank you.

  40. WonderMagician says:

    Focusing on what works is definitely worth pursuing for the greater good of self and others

  41. Katie Fish says:

    The advice starts at 7:22, if you want to skip ahead.

  42. Shamal Karunarathne says:

    It takes 4 seconds to deduct 100 from 600? who/what were the participants in that test?

  43. Human Earthling says:

    Yes, there is a lot of research into the social sciences….the only problem is that these research studies funded initially by Foundations owned by the Rockefellers, Fords, and other super wealthy entities apparantly (today in hindsight) had a hidden agenda; their interest in understanding human behavior was and still is, in learning how to control the population. This is not a negative comment. It is a positive one. Do we want to be controlled? Especially to the extent such control as assumed in modern times. I think not. It's all well and good to speak in sound bites. It's quite another to live one's life by them.

  44. Ridho Pradana says:

    I'm literally in tears. Thanks for the beautiful message.

  45. imran badurdeen says:

    The reason why we have this negative problem is because we use our logical left brain more often than our imaginary right brain. I as a human being living mainly in a economical based environment tends my left brain to work more.

  46. Nelson's Rudolph says:

    Wow, Ted Talks are the most one dimensional secular humanistic 9of dealing with life.

  47. Peter & Pete says:

    I think Ted should do a talk on love, the most prized human quality one can ever have yet people seem to use the word flagrantly yet never seem to understand what love actually is. Come on Ted, you guys can do it!!

  48. Jeevan Koiri says:

    A great mativation i have ever got

  49. pravallika Thota says:

    Telugu mental ladies talk

  50. Hans Hoerdemann says:

    Her first comment is a negative about herself.

  51. Troy Jones Sr says:

    Stop watching Tell Lie Vision, being a Materialistic chasing nut, pick up the Book of John and read it, then read the book of Ephesians Chapter Six..then you will know the Enemy that has been deceiving you through smooth talking BS… This is how you not only Win but Conquer the Negative Pimp game they Feed you.. Obviously I'm not Religous, it's called Logic, Wake up from those ten to fourteen percent Brains people!??✊

  52. June H says:

    Jobs saved versus jobs lost is bad either way because it doesn't account for new jobs created. That is why it's a negative, because no matter the percentage, people still lost jobs. Good intentions, but bad context. This is not legitimate scientific research because the reasoning is flawed.

  53. Galactic llama says:


  54. JC Fullmore says:

    I have problem always seeing the positive and literally get mocked for it, until I'm needed to help others perceive different. Not sure why I'm so fortunate to have this mindset because I've had many many bad things happen.

  55. StJohns River66 says:

    People just face reality lol

  56. Sarv Grover says:

    Internal strength gives us positive thoughts and ignore the negativity.Thanks Alison Ledgerwood

  57. Kevin Torres says:

    BE the “what happened good in their day” for someone.

  58. ki daniels says:

    When my daughter was little we used to play a game at the dinner table called Hi-Lo. Tell about your Hi point and your lo point of the day. When I turned it around to Lo Hi we all left with smiles.

    Id9nt know if we are in fact conditioned brains that hold on to negative. As a therapist I think we are conditioned to share our difficulties and seek assistance with problems. Perhaps equal focuse on morefocuse with elementary level students in finding and sharing our Hi…our wins can rewire our focuse. Perhaps the new phrase of
    "Celebrate your day" as a mental health Champaign complete with the same payoffs that struggles ger ie attention, empathy, sympathy, and pawsitive reward can turn the tables upside down.

    We as a culture have come to reinforce negative thinking and experiences. From movies to social, to familial settings.

    I wonder what the world would be like if we celebrated our Hi as much as we attend to our victimizations.

    I often hear the fallacy of treating our children equally when in truth of course the current reality is we do favor our children. Which one do we favor….the one who needs us the most at the time. Naturally.

    My sister suffered greatly because I was burned at 4yrs old. Yes I needed years if help which unfortunately equated to years of her invisibility and loss. The end result was the creation of a seriously impaired borderline individual.

    She is toxic, resentful, and venomous to this day towards me.
    I Am in my golden years as is she.

    I wonder how my sufferring (not of my own making btw) negatively and collatetally created hers. She became manipulatively dangerous not only to me but so many others.

    While I not responsible I was undeniably no doubt part of the reason via collateral secondary impact.

    I wish for her a repatterning of her erasure, her invisibility creation, so that she need not act out malevolently to get the attention she desperately craves. And have released that relationship for my own safety. The high 4 me was the awareness of unconscious patterning of harmful borderlines in my life in favor of healthier healing people whom I choose to serve.

    I Am not siren I agree with your premise that we are pre wired with negative brains….in my view i think this may be more behavioral. And the high is that if that is true that we can unlearn and recreate a more pawsitive outcome for US all. Suddenly I feel more hopeful.
    Its ah new day and ah new dawn.

    What's the High of your day?

  59. Yellowhat Dick says:

    I think shes pretty. I came to see if others thought so too.

  60. Anwar Aziz says:

    If we can just remember the gifts God's provided to us every morning, that'll be good

  61. Cchhiibbii says:

    Ooooo just the answer I'm looking for

  62. Jeremiah Pope says:

    Lady: Looks shocked when Governér was ousted for 60% job loss So why is it so hard for people to look on the bright side of that?

    uhhhhhh maybe because 60% of the jobs were lost? Positive thinking is cancer

  63. MOSES SALADI says:

    I like the guitar

  64. Daily Affirmations says:

    ? ? ?

  65. Arvind NK says:

    Good video for positive!!

  66. Sergio Serrano Torres says:

    I have to disagree with the 600 lives at stake example. She assumes that loss tends to stick based on the premise that the mental process to solve both math problem is the same.

  67. zaheer babar says:

    Helpful indeed

  68. Addison Thomas says:

    I beat my self up all the time because of the little things

  69. ian lythgoe says:

    Negative review right here! The title suggested a way out of being negative so I listened to 10 minutes of examples of us all being really negative and then in the last 10 seconds she literally goes : but we don't have to be, thanks.

    I wouldn't mind but I was on 10% battery and now it's only 6%

  70. #therealjp419 says:

    The glass half-full half-empty is a bad example and shouldn't even be an example because in the glass whatever is in it has to get added to it so if there is half of a glass of whatever liquid it is that means the glass is half-full

  71. Iam TheLight says:


  72. Eben Burger says:

    Pretty too!

  73. MrPatrickRevuelta says:

    Best mindset advice I've heard.
    Like being told 'toughen up' – but in a kind way that actually helps.

  74. ThisISclickBAIT says:

    Im 14 years old and im stuck in negativity, i don’t want it, it’s just there, ruining my life, and i can’t get rid of it, i used to be a happy little child, but after evryone hurt me iv’e become more negative, it’s like cancer, it’s not a part of me and i don’t want it there but at the same time i can’t get rid of it and it’s taking my life

  75. Lieve Randy - Music says:

    Great talk!!! Thanks so much?

  76. smath82 says:

    Seriously though, do not tip grumpy waiters/ waitresses

  77. Battle Ogodos says:

    Who else is here from handshake America? Lol

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