The Psychology Behind Why Negative Reviews are So Influential

by | Dec 10, 2021 | Mental Health, Online Review Marketing, Reputation Management | 0 comments

Psychology Behind Negative Reviews

Negative reviews can be the bane of your existence as a business in the modern era. At any moment, a customer can leave a review across multiple platforms, and it’s not always easy getting fake ones removed.

Luckily, the same psychological effect that causes us to pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones can be attributed to negative reviews. We can therefore combat negative reviews in the same way we combat negativity in our everyday lives.

That’s our focus for this post.

Why Do Online Reviews Matter at All?

Online Review Statistic

The importance of online reviews may be obvious to you, but since our post is centered around this fact, we’re going to reiterate it. There are five primary reasons to pay attention to the reviews your business receives: social proof, customer reach, customer loyalty, revenue and reputation.

Here are a few quick stats to truly drive this point home. A 1-star increase in average Yelp ratings has shown to increase revenue by 5 to 9% while 63% of consumers are willing to pay 15% more for a better experience, according to a study of restaurant reviews on Yelp and a report by Podium. This demonstrates the affect reviews can have on revenue.

Here are a few additional stats:

  • 93% of consumers state online reviews have an impact on their purchasing decisions. – Podium
  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as word-of-mouth recommendations. – BrightLocal
  • 94% of consumers state an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. – ReviewTrackers

As you can see, reviews can have a profound affect on the decisions customers make when it comes to doing business with you. What’s more, negative reviews can drive potential customers away from your business, which can impact your revenue and appearance in local SEO search results.

How Negativity Affects Our Lives


To understand why negative reviews are so influential and how you can combat them, you need to understand how negative experiences of any kind affect our lives in the short and long term.

Multiple studies have demonstrated the long-lasting effects negativity and negative experiences can have on our mental health. This is especially true when compared to the effects positive experiences have on our psyche.

The general conclusion is that in a 1:1 ratio of one negative experience vs one positive experience, the negative experience will often weigh far heavier in your mind no matter how grand that positive experience was.

An example cited by Karen D. Lincoln in a study published in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Public Access library compared the mental and physical health outcomes of HIV-positive persons based on the interactions they had within their own personal social networks.

Karen states the following in the study’s manuscript:

“Negative aspects of the social network of HIV-infected patients (e.g., disappointment with network members, criticism, negative interactions with confidants) are associated with symptoms of alcohol abuse, severity of HIV illness, depressive symptoms, and future visits to the emergency room. They note, in contrast, that social support (e.g., positive relationship with a confidant, the number of close friends) is only associated with depressive symptoms and visits to the hospital.”

In short, HIV-positive individuals who experienced negative interactions within their own social networks were much more likely to abuse alcohol and progress further in the disease than HIV-positive individuals who had much favorable support networks despite the fact that both groups suffered from the same illness.

Why Does Negativity Have Such an Impact on Our Lives?

Human Brain

While some of you may be able to radiate positivity in spite of any adversities you’ve faced in your lives, many of us have negative experiences that occupy our minds far more frequently than the positive experiences we’ve witnessed.

You can even see evidence of this in the way negative news reports trend much higher and receive much more air time than positive news reports. It’s also in the way one piece criticism gets under our skin far deeper than a dozen compliments do.

But why do we let negativity have such power over ourselves? The late Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University explains that “the brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres.” To make a long story short, negative experiences are processed in the same hemisphere that controls thought.

We recall them much more frequently than positive experiences as a result. It’s part of an evolutionary process called “negativity bias.” The referenced study found that infants are more likely to be affected by negative experiences than happy ones.

One explanation the authors of the study cited is a theory about an evolutionary process that causes us to attribute the fear, anxiety and frustration we feel from negative experiences with danger. It’s a signal thousands of years of evolution has woven into the human brain.

Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister explains that “the hunter-gatherers who survived paid more attention to shunning poisonous berries than to savoring delicious ones. They were more alert to predatory lions than to tasty gazelles.”

Negativity bias, in turn, is what causes us to pay far more attention to negative reviews than positive ones. It’s that signal in each of our brains trying to keep us out of harm’s way.

We’ve already covered what follows: fewer new customers, loss of current customers, decreased revenue, less appearances in local SEO, etc.

How Do We Combat Negativity Bias?

We avoid negative experiences reflexively due to a byproduct of evolution. While some people fall into bouts of depression and substance abuse following negative experiences, many of us try to fill our lives with positive ones to combat the dangerous thought processes that accompany negative experiences.

In fact, negativity bias is the reason why we need multiple positive experiences to offset a single negative one. That evolutionary process causes negativity to linger in our brains far longer than positive experiences. What we must do is interrupt that process by surrounding ourselves with multiple positive things for every negative experience we have.

How to Apply This Psychology to Negative Reviews

Starfish Reviews - Facebook Reviews

It’s quite easy to understand how to handle negative reviews once you understand how the human psyche processes negativity. If humans need multiple positive experiences to offset a single negative experience, your business should aim to receive multiple positive reviews for every negative one.

There are a few different things you can do to receive more positive reviews for your business. Most important of all is asking for them. You don’t need to come right out and ask customers to leave 5-star reviews for your business. You just need to encourage them to provide feedback.

Wait at least a few days to a week before asking customers to give you feedback on their experiences. If you’re too early, you’ll likely be ignored as customers haven’t had enough time to evaluate your product or service. If you wait too long, your reviews won’t be thorough as customers will likely have forgotten specific details by then.

Our plugin Starfish Reviews provides the perfect way to ask customers for feedback. With a simple question sent through a funnel to anywhere you please (social media, email, direct message, etc.), you can ask customers to rate their experiences on a positive vs negative basis.

If they respond negatively, ask them to share details on their experiences and direct them to support. If they respond positively, ask them to leave reviews on their favorite platforms, such as Google and Facebook.

You can also get more reviews by improving your product, keeping a close eye on the quality of your support, adding badges for the review platforms you use on marketing materials, your website and social media profiles, and displaying real reviews on your site.

How to Respond to Reviews

It’s important to be proactive about the number of positive reviews you receive, but you don’t need to wait for them to come to sprinkle a little positivity into your review stream. Just do it yourself.

All you need to do is follow the same rule of having multiple instances of positivity to offset every individual instance of negativity. You can do this by responding to reviews.

Responding to positive reviews, while time consuming, is relatively easy. Look for detailed reviews from customers who truly seemed to have engaged with your business.

Don’t use canned responses. Instead, thank them for leaving a review, and reiterate the details they’ve shared about their experience. Address any complaints they had by admitting fault for them, and express how your business intends to correct the issues they brought up. Have your customer service representatives sign responses with their own names for a bit of a personal touch.

Responding to negative reviews is a lot more intimidating, but if you want to turn some of those negative experiences into positive ones, you’re going to have to buckle up and take the plunge.

It’s really important for you to focus on addressing complaints, taking responsibility and making changes when it comes to negative reviews. Don’t make excuses if your business was truly in the wrong.

Also, be sure to leave your pride and ego at the door. While you’re going to receive negative reviews from nefarious customers every once in a while, look at all complaints under a microscope to see if there are any improvements you can make to your product, service and customer support.

In short, don’t make promises you don’t intend on keeping in your responses.

Final Thoughts

Negativity is a constant in our lives intent on plaguing our thoughts from a tiny corner within our minds. It’s only natural for customers to pay more attention to the few negative reviews you’ve received than the dozens of positive reviews you’ve accrued because of this.

It makes sense to handle negative reviews in the same way we handle negativity of any kind because of this. All in all, what you need to do is ensure customers see a lot more positivity in your review stream than negativity.

It’ll help stop that evolutionary process in its path and encourage them to see your business in a favorable light, even when you receive negative reviews.


Lyn Wildwood

Lyn is an expert freelance WordPress blogger. She brings many years of WordPress content writing experience to the Starfish Reviews team.

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