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The ADHD Negativity Bias

Negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals tend to focus more on negative experiences than positive ones. This bias can be particularly detrimental to children with ADHD, who may already struggle with emotional regulation and have a higher risk of developing mood disorders.

So what is Negativity Bias? Negativity bias is a cognitive bias that affects the way people perceive and remember information. It means that negative experiences or events have a stronger impact on us than positive ones. For example, we tend to remember a negative comment from a teacher more than a compliment. This bias has evolved as a survival mechanism to help humans avoid danger and protect themselves.

Children with ADHD are more likely to have a negativity bias due to their struggles with emotional regulation. They may perceive themselves as failures, as they often struggle with academic or social tasks. They may also have difficulty with impulse control, which can lead to negative consequences and further reinforce the belief that they are inadequate. This can be made worse by the negative reactions of parents who don’t fully understand the nature of ADHD.

This negativity bias can deeply affect a child’s self-esteem and their ability to develop healthy relationships with others. Children with ADHD are generally more sensitive to criticism and may have difficulty accepting praise or compliments. They may also have a pessimistic outlook on life, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression. In fact there is evidence of a high level of comorbidity between ADHD and depression.

How to Overcome Negativity Bias?

There are several ways to overcome negativity bias and help children with ADHD develop a more positive outlook, both at home and at school. Here are some strategies that have been useful for my clients.

1. Encourage your child to focus on the positive aspects of their life and to express gratitude for them. This can help them shift their focus away from negative experiences and develop a more positive mindset. A great way to start is to identify your child’s strengths and celebrate their achievements. You can take the VIA survey here.

2. Help your child recognise and challenge negative thoughts. Encourage them to ask themselves if their thoughts are accurate or if they are based on assumptions or biases.

3. Nurture positive self-talk: Teach your child to use positive self-talk every single day! This is the best wat to counter negative thoughts. For example, if your child makes a mistake, encourage them to say, "Let’s try again" instead of "I'm a failure."

4. If your child is struggling with negativity bias, seek the help of a therapist or ADHD specialist. They can provide support and guidance on how to manage negative thoughts and develop a more positive outlook on life.

In conclusion, negativity bias can have a huge impact on children with ADHD. It’s something that often remains with children through adulthood. By recognising this bias and helping your child overcome it, parents and teachers can help their children develop a more positive mindset and improve their day-to-day wellbeing.


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