THE POWER OF BAD by John Tierney


How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It
Email this review


Coping strategies for the negativity bias that pervades our daily lives.

For City Journal contributing editor Tierney and social scientist Baumeister (Psychology/Univ. of Queensland), co-authors of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011), the power of bad can be filed under the negativity effect, the “universal tendency for negative events and emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones.” We revel in praise for a much shorter time than we wallow in criticism. We are fed a constant diet of negative imagery because bad sells (if it bleeds, it leads). Regardless, write the authors, “bad can make us stronger in the end.” Though it may be difficult to negate the negativity, the authors show how not to be ruled by it. Their prescriptions have mostly to do with reframing the context of the negative, isolating the rotten apple so it doesn’t contaminate the remainder of the barrel. These specific strategies have a common-sensical tone: Learn to be as creative with your praise as you are with your criticism. Protect yourself, and don’t expect bad apples to change on their own. Focus on making a good first impression. Regarding retail, they write, “no matter how crazy or obnoxious the customer, end on a good note.” (True to the negativity effect, a single one-star review on Yelp will yield more hits than numerous five-star reviews.) Occasionally, the authors venture into less obviously popular areas—e.g., when we advocate penalties over prizes. A case in point is their call for “less carrot and more stick” when it comes to grading students, especially in college. So is their suggestion for doomsayers to “put your money where you doom is.” As they write, “if doomsayers want society to spend large sums dealing with a threat, they should be willing to put their own cash—and reputations—on the line.” That pronouncement may not seem reasonable in the face of something like climate change, but otherwise, the authors’ advice rings true.

A solid primer on how to put the power of bad to good use.

Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-59420-552-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019


NonfictionWILLPOWER by Roy F.  Baumeister
by Roy F. Baumeister
NonfictionYOUR OWN WORST ENEMY by Steven Berglas
by Steven Berglas
NonfictionESCAPING THE SELF by Roy F.  Baumeister
by Roy F. Baumeister