Why Negative Reviews & Negative Critiques Hurt!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Your critique group trashes the latest chapter in your novel. Out of 25 positive reviews on Amazon, someone gives you ONE STAR. Why does it hurt so much?

Why is it that one negative comment out of 25 or 50 or 100+ sticks like glue in our brain over the multiple positive ones? Am I just too sensitive? Well, thanks to a segment on CBS Sunday Morning, which aired the morning of Oscar Sunday, I now know that there is scientific evidence to support that there is more to it than my personality.

According to psychological studies, there is something called, Negativity Bias, that supports the theory that our brains are affected by negative things more than positive. The brain is good at learning from bad experiences and bad at learning from good experiences.

A doctor from the University of California-San Diego has identified two regions of the brain, the Amygdala and the Medial Prefrontal Cortex, that grab onto negative comments or criticisms and block out the brains ability to do anything else at the time. Dr. Rick Hansen, Ph.D., describes it this way: "negative comments stick like Velcro in the brain while positive comments roll off like Teflon." In other words, the brain works harder when processing criticism and can keep the brain from processing anything else. Dr. Hansen has written a book, Hardwiring Happiness, that teaches how to beat negative bias.

Somehow, I’ve learned to endure the negative criticisms from my critique group because I know they care about me and my work and they want what I want—for my manuscript to be the best that it can be. An agent recently rejected representation of a novel I submitted but took the time to tell me what was wrong. Grateful, I poured over every point and began a complete rewrite. Those negative comments taught me where my manuscript was weak and how I could improve it. I value that kind of negativity. It pushed me to be a better writer.

On the contrary, a negative Amazon review has stuck in my mind like glue. I recently put a Kindle version of my children’s story books, Arlie the Alligator, up on Amazon. There was a glitch in the technology—I paid a company to covert the story for me—that wasn’t realized until folks began to download it. Not knowing where to lodge their complaint, five purchasers chose to complain by posting a ONE STAR review, even though it had nothing to do with the quality of the book. Now, I can deal with the THREE STAR review it received, not everyone can like your work, but those ONE STARS based on a technology glitch I had no control over, are frustrating. I struggle to forget that they’re there.

Some writers suggest that you not read negative reviews. But sometimes you don’t know the review is negative until you’ve already started to read. By then, it’s too late.


What do you do about negative reviews? How do you let go? I’d like to know. 

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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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