This is a continuation of the discussion I've been posting over the past few days starting on Day 416 - please read at least this one for a basic understanding of the terms I am using.
Imagine that you meet someone for the first time and are forming a first impression of this person. Most of the information you notice is positive: This person is pleasant, friendly, and seems intelligent. But in addition, you notice that he is also somewhat conceited; he has what appears to be an excessively positive view of his own characteristics. What kind of impression do you form? Research indicates that probably it will be quite negative (Kunda, 1999). Why? Because it appears that we pay more attention to negative information than we do to positive information about another person, an event, or almost anything(eg Cacioppo, Gardner, & Brentson, 1997). Social psychologists refer to this effect as negativity bias, and it seems to be both general and powerful, strongly influencing our social thought in many different situations.
From an evolutionary perspective, this tendency makes a great deal of sense. Negative information reflects features of the external world that may, potentially, be threatening to our safety or well-being. For this reason, it is especially important that we be sensitive to such stimuli and thus be able to respond to them quickly. Research findings offer support for this reasoning. For instance, consider our ability to recognise facial expressions in other. It appears that we are faster and more accurate in detecting negative facial expressions (eg, ones showing anger or hostility) than positive facial expressions (eg, ones showing friendliness [Ohman, Lundqvist, & Esteves, 2001]).
Interesting, we interpret negative interactions, or even facial expressions and body language, as being a potential threat to our survival. That's pretty extreme, if you ask me. It makes sense though, if you take a good look at the world we live in: suspicion, deception, murder, war, competition, and more is rife - a clear indication as to the nature of our minds and thoughts. If we were a peaceful people then this would be a peaceful world. The sad thing is that we could be a peaceful people, but we choose to remain ignorant to the fact that that choice is available to us.
So why else would we focus on and single out negative aspects over positive ones? And we do not only do this with the things, places and people we encounter in our environments - we do this with ourselves as well. We are a contradictory species - driven by a high level of self interest borne from a profound love of self, but also despise ourselves and abuse ourselves extensively because of this.
It may be that our negative views are developed so that we can feel better about ourselves - our minds' attempts to not feel quite so shitty about ourselves. We meet another person and, by the end of the meeting, will have found an assortment of things that are "wrong" with this new acquaintance. We then start comparing these things to ourselves and boost our ego's. Later on, though, we will inevitably resort to criticizing ourselves for all of our own perceived faults. And so, the wars within us go on, with battles for supremacy being won and lost on both sides, but neither ever quite getting an edge over the other.