Positivity offset

Positivity offset

Positivity offset is a psychological term referring to two phenomena: People tend to interpret neutral situations as mildly positive, and most people rate their lives as good, most of the time. The positivity offset stands in notable asymmetry to the negativity bias.

Positivity Offset in perception

Social Neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo has assembled evidence that people typically see their surroundings as positive, whenever a clear threat is not present. Because of the positivity bias, we are motivated to explore and engage with our surroundings, instead of being balanced inactive between approach and avoidance.

Positivity Offset in life satisfaction

Across most cultures, nations, and groups of people, the average and median ratings of life satisfaction is not neutral, as one might expect, but mildly positive.

Groups of people who do not show a positivity offset include people with depression, people in very severe poverty, and people who live in perpetually threatening situations. However, many groups of people that outsiders would not expect to show the positivity offset do, such as people with paraplegia and spinal injury, very elderly people, and people with many chronic illnesses.

Research on emotional adaptation over many decades has demonstrated that given time, people can get used to all but the very worst circumstances (the time required is typically less than two years, except for widowhood which takes longer). The major psychological publications on life satisfaction ratings have come from Ed Diener and his colleagues. [Diener, E. & Diener, C. (1996). Most people are happy. Psychological Science, 7, 181-185.] [Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1-31. [http://s.psych.uiuc.edu/~ediener/hottopic/1-31.pdf available online] ] This empirical work gathered life-satisfaction judgments from many modern and traditional cultures worldwide.

References


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