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Understanding negative bias theory

What is negative bias theory, and how can it influence the perceptions of your customers? Learn more in this article.

Online reviews and feedback play a significant role in shaping consumers’ perceptions and decisions.

When considering feedback about a business, it is not uncommon to find a disproportionate amount of negative comments compared to positive ones. This phenomenon can be attributed to the concept of negative bias theory, which suggests that people tend to give more weight to negative experiences and are less likely to share positive feedback. Understanding this theory is crucial for businesses to effectively manage their online reputation and customer satisfaction.

Negative bias theory posits that humans are inherently more sensitive to negative stimuli and experiences. This bias can be traced back to our evolutionary past, where survival depended on quickly identifying and avoiding potential threats. While this bias was once a protective mechanism, it still manifests today in various aspects of human behaviour, including the way we provide feedback.

When customers have a negative experience with a business, they are more likely to feel strong emotions such as frustration, disappointment, or anger. These emotions tend to linger and may prompt them to leave negative feedback as a means of venting or seeking a resolution. Negative experiences can also have a stronger impact on memory, making them more readily accessible when recalling and sharing feedback.

On the other hand, positive experiences may not evoke the same intensity of emotions as negative ones. Customers who have a pleasant experience with a business often perceive it as expected or within their baseline expectations, leading to less emotional arousal. Consequently, they may not feel compelled to share their positive experiences unless prompted or incentivised to do so.

The influence of negative bias theory can be further amplified by social and psychological factors. In social psychology, the concept of negativity bias suggests that negative information has a more significant impact on judgment and decision-making than positive information. This bias extends to online platforms, where individuals are more likely to engage with and remember negative content, which, in turn, can influence their perceptions and choices.

Moreover, the anonymity provided by online platforms can contribute to the prevalence of negative feedback. People may feel more comfortable expressing their dissatisfaction behind a screen, leading to a higher likelihood of negative reviews compared to face-to-face interactions. This anonymity can embolden individuals to share their negative experiences without the same level of accountability they might have in offline settings.

Businesses must be aware of these biases and actively manage their online reputation. While negative feedback is inevitable, a proactive approach can help mitigate its impact. Here are a few strategies to consider:

An infographic showing four strategies for a proactive approach to feedback. 1. Encourage and incentivise positive feedback. 2. Monitor online platforms. 3. Provide exceptional customer service. 4. Seek constructive criticism. Click to enlarge

In conclusion, negative bias theory sheds light on the tendency of individuals to share bad feedback more readily than positive feedback. Understanding this phenomenon is crucial for businesses to manage their online reputation effectively. Keep this in mind with your own business idea, it is likely you will come across this problem and having ways to address it proactively is a way to overcome it!


1. Vaish A, Grossmann T, Woodward A. Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychological Bulletin. 2008 May; 134(3):383–403.

2. Negativity Bias [Internet]. The Decision Lab. Available from:

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