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Positivity and negativity are powerful feedback processes in human behavior. Positive feedback encourages us to continue doing what we have done so far. Negative feedback, on the contrary, generally acts as a warning signal that tells us to moderate or stop what we are doing and to redress the course of our actions. Positive feedback can be linked to approach behavior and negative feedback to avoidance behavior. Through the course of evolution, these two processes, approach and avoidance, have helped us survive in complex environments. A powerful indicator of what is possible for a system is the positivity/negativity ratio of feedback; that is, how many instances of posive vs. negative feedback we can observe in a human interacion process, such as a team meeting or in a couple's conversation.
The positivity/negativity ratio (P/N) has been found to be a critical parameter to ascertain what kinds of dynamics are possible for a team (Losada & Heaphy, 2004). P/N is measured by counting the instances of positive feedback (e.g. "that is a good idea;") vs. negative feedback (e.g. "this is not what I expected; I am disappointed."). Marcial Losada found that high performance teams have a P/N ratio of 5.6; medium performance teams have a P/N of 1.9 and low performance teams have a P/N of .36 (there is more negativity than positivity). These ratios determine the level of connectivity that a team can reach (Losada & Heaphy, 2004). Connectivity is the control parameter in the meta learning model developed and empirically validated by Losada (1999), who found that high performance teams have dynamics that correspond to a complexor (complex order) which is mathematically equivalent to a chaotic attractor, representing the flexibility and creativity of these teams; medium performance teams have dynamics that correspond to a transient limit cycle that eventually settles into a fixed-point attractor, representing the inability to escape limiting routines; and low performance teams have dynamics that correspond to a fixed-point attractor, representing even less flexibility, and leading to a dead-end situation from which it's very hard to escape. John Gottman (1994) found that similar ratios occur in marriages who flourish (P/N ratio of 5.1) and those who end up in divorce (P/N ratio of .77) Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada found that individuals who flourish have a P/N ratio above the Losada line and those who languish have a P/N ratio below the Losada line (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Waugh and Fredrickson found that the Losada line separates people who are able to reach a complex understanding of others from those who do not (Waugh & Fredrickson, 2006). The Losada line establishes the minimum level at which a complexor is reached and is equal to a P/N of 2.9013 (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Fredrickson, 2009, chapter 7).
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity. Crown Publishers, New York.
- Fredrickson, B. L. & Losada, M. (2005). American Psychologist, 60 (7) 678-686.Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing.
- Gottman, J. M. (1994). What Predicts Divorce: The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes. New York: Lawrence Earlbaum.
- Losada, M. (1999). The complex dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modelling, 30 (9-10) pp. 179-192.
- Losada, M. & Heaphy, E. (2004). The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams: A nonlinear dynamics model. American Behavioral Scientist, 47 (6), pp. 740-765.
- Waugh, C. E. & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Nice to know you: Positive emotions, self-other overlap, and complex understanding in the formation of a new relationship. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1 (2), 93-106.
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