Bad is Stronger Than Good


Extending on my Positivity Ratio post (8th December 2015), today I will look at why considering the Positivity Ratio is so important for education. In essence the importance of the Positivity Ratio is two fold: we learn best when we are in a ‘good space’ yet ‘bad’ is stronger than ‘good’. So if we want to maximise learning it is necessary to focus on enhancing the positive.

As part of our survival mechanism, we are physiologically designed to notice the bad, ‘threats,’ long before the good, ‘pleasures’ we encounter.   Generally it is necessary for all our needs to be taken care of to fully engage in the pleasures of life. This is logical as it is important for us to detect and respond to ‘threats’ as a priority.  However if you are too concerned about handling the ‘monsters’ or obtaining ‘food’ or ‘shelter’ it is pretty hard to stop and savour the simple ‘pleasures’ of life.

This tendency is not restricted to physical threats. It is noted for psychological factors too. For example the effects of ‘bad’ feedback and interpersonal interactions are more powerful than good ones (Baumeister et al 2001).  Since ‘bad’ has a greater impact than ‘good’ it is important to aim for the Positivity Ratio, just to balance out the impact of ‘bad’.

At the same time ‘learning’ occurs best when we are comfortable and relaxed; in a ‘good space’.  Consequently to be effective teachers, creating a ‘good space’ is our first priority.   A ‘good space’ being where everyone feels safe, not under threat and their basic needs are satisfied. Basic human needs include the need to be engaged, acknowledged, have a sense of belonging and awareness we matter.

This environment is not going to happen naturally. Thus as leader teachers it is our responsibility to actively remove potential threats and create a safe learning environment. This is where principles of Positive Education are valuable.  Especially as noted by Green, Oades and Robinson (2011) where Positive Education relates to the ‘wellbeing’ of each student.  Focusing on meeting the students’ needs, empowering them to meet their own, while accomplishing our goals (covering the required curriculum and administrative duties) is part of teaching.  This means making a conscious effort to ensure positive communication, feedback and relationships are practiced and upheld.

As teacher leaders we have a responsibility to highlight the ‘good’, while managing the ‘bad’ and in this way strengthen the ‘safe’ environment required to maximise learning.

Love to hear your thoughts…

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., Vohs, K. D., 2001 Bad is Stronger than Good Retrieved from

Green, S., Oades, L, Robinson, P. 2011 Positive Education: Creating flourishing students, staff and schools. Retrieved from

Photo By Janelle Sheen