In a previous post, we observed the peculiar phenomenon of loss aversion, and the surprising ways in which it can affect our ability to reason, overcome and succeed. It might be beneficial now for those of us in the ‘Yes’ camp, to understand precisely how loss aversion comes about in order to better equip ourselves to counteract it.
Paul Rozin, one of the world’s most highly respected psychologists, noted in ‘Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance and Contagion’, the ability of a single cockroach to completely ruin a bowl of cherries, while simultaneously pointing out that a single cherry placed upon a bowl of cockroaches does nothing to make the bowl appear more appealing.
Negativity bias did not require a mind as brilliant as Rozin’s to point this out as an old Russian adage demonstrates,
Ло́жка дегтю по́ртит бо́чку мёда
a spoonful of tar is likely to spoil a barrel of honey
H. N. C. Stevenson in his 1954 paper, ‘Status evaluation in the Hindu caste system‘, stated that ‘Pollution always overcomes purity’, Arthur Schopenhauer asserted, ‘we feel pain, but not painlessness’ and in Julius Cesar, we found Marc Anthony declaring wisely that ‘The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones’.
This short sample, together with the revelation that of all words in the English language used to describe personality, an astonishing 74% are negative, reinforce the prevalence of negativity dominance in our lives.
This negativity bias also puts particular strain on personal relationships. One might suppose that a healthy relationship is one where positive interactions outweigh negative interactions. But ‘painlessness’ is not enough to sustain a relationship. Far from it.
Dr. John Gottman, author of over 190 published academic articles and 40 books on relationships and marital stability, observed thousands of couples over four decades and revealed that in order for a relationship to remain stable and succeed, the positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions by five to one.
The amygdala is to blame for all this sorrow seeking, engaging up two thirds of it’s neurons in threat recognition. These tiny almond shaped clusters of nuclei make up part of our limbic system and are particularly adept at spotting red flags. Our brains, fantastic as they are, are too feeble to cope with the sheer volume of sensory and auditory data we are bombarded with on a daily basis. The amygdala then, is fine tuned to sift through the prevailing shitstorm of information and pick out the most urgent and alarming nuggets of information for our immediate attention.
I suppose you could say, the amygdala is a bit like the BBC. Or better still, that the BBC acts as the amygdala on behalf of the Bitter Together campaign. This presents us with a significant problem in that, if no news really is good news, we ought not to be surprised that 90% of the news we do receive is bad news. The hierarchal nature of media journalism ensures that the old tenet of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is as important as ever. This central tenet of journalism is the sole dictum by which the amygdala and the Bitter Together campaign is governed.
The problem is exacerbated for those of us attempting to deliver a resounding ‘Aye’ in September next by the fact that negative events are more keenly felt, more vividly imagined, tarry longer in the memory and are unevenly weighted.
So, how best to ensure that our brain’s natural tendency to gravitate toward the negative can be curbed? The answer is provided by none other than our own dear Prime Minister.
David Cameron has sought to remind us on the ‘Yes’ side that it would be wrong to make an emotional decision next year when we arrive at the polling station. That we must use our heads, not our hearts to decide what is best for Scotland. For once, I am in total agreement. But Cameron tells us to use our heads, because he thinks us a boorish rabble of pissed up, blue faced, roaring imbeciles sitting around quoting Mel Gibson and throwing darts at posters of Eric Bristow.
The lie that Cameron and Darling are attempting to sell to the people of Scotland is that their championing of unionism is the only reasoned and rational approach when it is they who are campaigning from the wholly emotional standpoint. The fact that those within Better Together refer to their own campaign as ‘Project Fear’ ought to serve as evidence enough of whether their motivation comes from the highly emotional limbic system or the more rational neocortex.
The entirely reasonable request we are making on the ‘Yes’ side is that the people of Scotland decide the future of Scotland. There is nothing emotional in this statement. It is self evidently, rational. Reasonable. Sensible. All those things that the amygdala and Better Together would have us ignore.
As recently as February of this year, David Cameron was still talking emotively about the breaking of Britain. This is quite astonishing stupidity from the Prime Minister even by his own standards where outdoing himself in the stupidity stakes is a weekly triumph. One would hope that the Prime Minister would be able to discern the difference between Great Britain, the island that lies on the European continental shelf, northwest of Continental Europe and the United Kingdom, the sovereign state that can be found there.
I can. And I bristle with anticipation for the day when collectively the people of Scotland, in full knowledge of the reasonable arguments put before them, renounce fear and embrace her opportunity.
Free from the binds of negativity bias and negativity dominance, there is only one rational conclusion to be drawn come September. The emotional response that Cameron fears so, despite his protestations to the contrary, does not result in an emotionally misguided ‘Yes’ vote.
The irrational, fearful response is to remain as we are.
The clear, cogent response will result in a ‘Yes’ for a more equitable future.
A ‘Yes’ for the common weal.
A ‘Yes’ for Scotland.
A ‘Yes’ for the United Kingdoms of Great Britain.
Andrew S. Loveland’s ‘The Sound of Abundance of Rain’ is available to buy on Kindle now.