Bad is more powerful than good. That’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s true. Really smart people, like psychology professor Daniel Kahneman, have studied this extensively and proven it to the satisfaction of a bunch of other smart people.
For the rest of us, the game of golf provides a familiar and persuasive example. Even if you’re not a golfer, you probably know the basics. Your score is the total number of shots you require to finish an 18-hole course. Par is where the bar is set. On a given hole, taking one less stroke than par is a birdie (good), and one more is a bogey (bad).
Economists Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer studied some 2.5 millions putts on the PGA tour to test their hypothesis. Their results confirmed that golfers will try harder when putting for a par than when putting for birdie. The bad outcome of missing a par putt for a bogey is more compelling than the potential good result of making a birdie.