Overcoming the Power of Bad with Roy Baumeister

March 25, 2020

“Life has to win every day, death only has to win once.” — Roy Baumeister

Today it’s great to have Roy Baumeister on the podcast. Dr. Baumeister is currently professor of psychology at the University of Queensland and is among the most prolific and most frequently cited psychologists in the world, with over 650 publications. His 40 books include the New York Times bestseller Willpower. His research covers self and identity, self-regulation, interpersonal rejection and the need to belong, sexuality and gender, aggression, self-esteem, meaning, consciousness, free will, and self-presentation. In 2013 he received the William James award for lifetime achievement in psychological science (the Association for Psychological Science’s highest honor), and his latest book, co-authored with John Tierney, is called “The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It”.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How the human brain has a tendency to focus on the bad
  • Why bad is processed more thoroughly than good
  • The latest research on ego depletion 
  • Roy’s take on the replication crisis
  • Why falsely accused people have trouble repairing their reputation
  • Why the bad gets so much more publicity than the good
  • Early career researchers and the lack of incentive for exporation
  • Why we are wired for bad
  • The importance of the Pollyanna principle
  • Roy’s words of wisdom for those with anxiety over the Coronavirus
  • “The rule of 4”
  • Why are hell fearing religions more popular than those preaching a benevolent message?
  • Gordon Allport’s distinction between mature and immature religion
  • The riskiness of drawing too much on the self
  • Roy’s thoughts on the best route to the good life
  • Ways we can see the bigger picture
  • The “negative Golden Rule”
  • How to get on the “low-bad diet”

One Response to “Overcoming the Power of Bad with Roy Baumeister”

  1. Patrick says:

    Thanks for the new episode. A lot of good stuff in there.

    However, I feel the need to speak about one thing that Roy Baumeister said here, and said previously. Paraphrasing: no one born in the Western world after WWII should complain, life is pretty good (e.g., entertainment options).

    This comes across as an awfully ignorant position taken by a very successful and accomplished white male of a certain age — a group to which I belong, too, except for being a bit younger. There is so much, for example, discrimination, both in the past (but lingering in its effects) and in the present.
    Take homosexuality, which was a crime in the UK until well into the late 60s with many convictions never overturned and expunged (and thus families destroyed, career paths being closed off, chemical castration destroying body chemistry, etc.), and hate crimes still continue to this day even in open and liberal cities in the West.
    As another example think racial discrimination in the US, with segregated education and the woes of being in the middle of the de-segregation efforts.
    I’m sorry, but it feels very hard to tell any member of these groups, or the groups as a whole: “hey, don’t complain about your life – Netflix is pretty good!”

    – I think it’s good on a personal level, to tell *yourself*: life is better than it’s been, and is continuing to improve. Don’t focus on the bad. (If you’re in a privileged group, you can ever tell yourself even more than that. I do that, too — as Roy Baumeister does. But it’s very different from telling others.)
    – The social justice perspective: action is preceded by seeing and acknowledging what’s going wrong. Neglecting, as in ‘never complain’, is a hindrance to taking action and thus to improvements.
    Scott, I wished you’d addressed this with Roy Baumeister, as you have in the past with others. Maybe next time?
    – To bring it all together: Roy Baumeister’s correct observation that the (median) life is pretty good has a strong implication: average life being so good means that humanity has gotten to a level where there are so many ‘resources’ that there is no reason for any individual or group having to suffer — all the more since those who are already well-off will hardly benefit, in terms of life satisfaction and happiness and so on, from getting a large share of the pie.

Join the Discussion