Why is Negative So Much More Attractive than Being Positive?
I’ve written on this blog before about Kevin Roberts being the poster boy for ADHD and now have completed his rather good book – Movers, Dreamers and Risk-Takers, Unlocking the Power of ADHD. I like it, ironically, because he is so positive about the whole ADHD issue, something that the Neuroscientists like Russell Barklay are not (“It’s a Neurodisability, why dress it up as anything else?”)
One of the more fascinating nuggets to emerge from this book is that ADHDers create negative dynamics in many areas of their lives because “negative information and stimulation weigh more heavily on the brain than positive information and stimulation, thus creating brain activity”*.
As Roberts writes: “I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I feel more alive when I am being negative. Opposing something gives me more juice than supporting it. We ADHDers create negative dynamics in many areas of our lives…
“Frequent arguments, broken promises and insensitive interpersonal styles leave a trail of hurt feelings, disappointments, and bewilderment. ADHDers often exhibit incredible powers of precision in finding ways to push other people’s buttons. This ability, combined with the impact of years of negativity often leaves people in our lives feeling that we ‘do it on purpose’. Parents, teachers and spouses often take things personally seeing us as bullies and instigators. Recent studies, however, strongly point to the underlying method in this seeming madness. Research demonstrates that negative information and stimulation weigh more heavily on the brain than do positive information and stimulation, thus creating more brain activity.
So because ADHD is a complex condition where there is less brain activity in several areas of the brain, “ADHD individuals create negative situations and dynamics as one unconscious way to increase cerebral activity”.
Lightbulb moment. DING! That is why my sons are pitted headlong, like two rutting stags, in a permanent argument – where one calls the other a Douchebag, and the other reciprocates with something unprintable, and then over every exchange and meal time, they have to be physically separated as even glasses of water have been chucked across the table. For all these years, I have been trying to smooth the path of their brotherly love, desperately trying to enforce a little football out in the garden, or cricket with bowling versus batting – when the only game that they’ve ever sustained is wrestling with each other until one is physically hurt.
How could I have wasted so much time, so much pointless effort on my part? Of course, all along, they much preferred it that way. The fact that the volume of nastiness may mean that when they grow up and live in separate houses, they may never speak to each other again is beyond my control. What is within my control is the understanding that they are just getting their juices going, because being nice is So Damn Boring.
It may seem like nothing to you, but as a parent of an ADHDer, who therefore shares 50% genetic responsibility for the condition, it makes you also wonder at your own face plants, fall outs, and giant foot in mouth blunders. How many times were you adding a bit of drama for the sake of it, just to mix things up a bit – causing a bit of a wave in the flat millpond of your life at that moment. Once you realise this, it makes you think twice before picking that fight with the poor person at the till, or the garage attendant, or any of the other victims of a negative bias.
It also makes you look a bit closer at some of the gaffes where you were quick to point a finger at some other undeserving protagonist. Were they really at fault or did you goad them into it? Should another Sorry be said instead of Stirring it up further?
One thing is for sure, I no longer mind when the boys are having a go at each other. I smile to myself and think “Hey, they’re just getting their daily dopamine fix”. Sometimes I intervene. But mostly now I just hoik up the laundry basket and step right over them.
*This bit of information comes from the “The Negativity Bias in Evaluative Categorizations, a paper by T.Ito, J.Larsen, N.K. Smith and J. Cacioppo in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (75,no 4 1998)”.