Negativity Bias and the College Process

By College Advice, General Education Advice
We will help you go through the college process in a psychologically healthy way

In our SAT-ACT Mastery Seminar, held in Old Saybrook and Madison, I routinely speak to dozens of 17 year olds. When I discuss college for the first time, I see anxiety. When I meet with parents and their children for college counseling, I often “feel” the anxiety of parents.

My college counseling work has led to a great deal of anti-anxiety counseling.  I have studied anxiety in different contexts for years. There are a few issues regarding how to deal with anxiety that seem clear cut:

(1) we are hard wired to be on alert.  Our ancestors had the need to be wary of their environment. Those who were on guard had a greater chance of surviving stealthy predators and other subtle life-threatening disasters.  While I haven’t seen this said explicitly, it might be that the anxiety gene was passed on with greater propensity due to Darwinism.

(2) we have negativity bias.  Numerous studies show that most everyone pays far more attention to the negative than the positive.  A simple experiment illustrates the point: if 9 people told you that your shirt looked wonderful and 1 advised you that it was hideous, its reasonably likely that your energy would be equally (or perhaps more) focused on the one negative comment.

How does this play out related to college?  There is near universal agreement that college is generically better than high school (so students should focus on all those positives that make it better) and the fact that parents are in position to send their children to college (making them in the elite thin slice in the world that can do so) should be cause for celebration.

We are all very lucky.  Young people will be heading from high school (a challenging place for most) to college (a wonderful place for most).  Parents of college bound students should realize that their children are heading to Disney World for 18-22 year olds (as I call college) and that their children grew up to be healthy enough (remember all those health worries that all parents have with infants-toddlers?), school smart-hardworking enough (yes, I realize that both are questionable but compared to those who do not have ability to do well in school or choose not to work, you child has both!) and economically able (even if you-your kids are taking out loans, apparently they are not forced to go work in a terrible job.)

All is well.  It really is!