How complaints reconfigure your brain to negative [and affect health]

Original author: Dr. Travis bradberry
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Preface : I saw a link to the original article in a comment here on Habré (unfortunately, I can’t find it to indicate the author and say thank you). The article is important not only for those who complain (who admits this?), But also for those who complain. Not everyone knows English, so I decided to translate it.

[In square brackets are my notes.]

Studies show that during a normal conversation, most people complain once a minute. We are drawn to poke because it is nice. However, just like many other things that are pleasant - for example, smoking or a pound of brisket for breakfast - nagging is harmful.
Your brain loves efficiency and does not like to work more than necessary. When you do something several times, for example complaining, your neurons are rebuilt to facilitate the flow of information. This makes it easier to repeat the action - so much so that you may not even realize that you repeated it again.

You cannot blame your brain. Who would like to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It is much more logical to build a permanent bridge. So the neurons come together and the connections between them become permanent. Scientists love to describe this process as “Neurons that are excited together, bind together.”

Recurring complaints rebuild your brain to make future complaints more likely. Over time, you find that negative is easier than positive, regardless of what is happening around you. Whining becomes your default behavior, and this affects how people perceive you . [Author's selection]
And here's the catch: nagging damages other areas of your brain. A study at Stanford University showed that nagging reduces the hippocampus , an area in the brain that is important for solving problems. Damage to the hippocampus is frightening, especially when you consider that this is one of the main areas of the brain damaged in Alzheimer's disease. [The hippocampus is also responsible for short-term memory.]

Whining is harmful to health

Although it would not be an exaggeration to say that nagging causes brain damage, this does not end there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol switches you to the beat-or-run mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy only to those systems that are needed for immediate survival. One of the effects of cortisol, for example, is to increase blood pressure and blood sugar, which helps either protect yourself or escape.

All the excess cortisol released during frequent complaints weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

And not just for a whiner

Since a person is a social being, our brains naturally and unconsciously imitate the moods of others, in particular the people with whom we spend a lot of time. This process is called neural mirroring, and this is the basis of our empathy. On the other hand, it makes nagging look like smoking - you don’t have to do it yourself to get negative effects. You should be careful when spending time in the company of people who whine about everything. Whiners want people to join their regrets in order to feel better. Think: if a person smokes, would you sit next to him for half a day, inhaling cigarette smoke? Rather, you would rather move away, and so should you do with whiners.

The solution for whiners

There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain.
First : foster a sense of gratitude. That is, when you want to complain, turn your attention to what you are grateful for. Thinking over why you can be grateful is not only good in itself. It also reduces cortisol by 23%. A study at the University of California found that people who work daily to foster gratitude have more energy and a better mood and significantly less anxiety due to their lower levels of cortisol. Every time you think negatively or pessimistically, use it as a “shift gear” signal and think about something positive. Over time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

The second - only when you have something really worth complaining about is to use a problem-oriented complaint. Think of it as a nagging goal. A decision-oriented nagging should do the following:

  1. Have a clear goal . Before whining, determine what you are looking for. If you cannot determine the goal, most likely you want to complain just like that, and this type of whining should be stopped in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive . It may seem strange to start complaining with a compliment, but starting with a positive one helps the other person not to go on the defensive. For example, before complaining about a poor service, you can say something like “I have been your client for a long time and have always admired your service ...”
  3. Be specific . When you complain, you should not recall all the minor issues in the last 20 years. Just describe the current situation and be as specific as possible. Do not say “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically that the employee did something that looked rude.
  4. Finish with a positive . If you end the “I won’t buy anything here again” complaint, the person who is listening to you will not be interested in responding to your complaint. In this case, you are simply expressing emotions, or complaining without purpose, just to complain. Instead, rephrase your goal that you want to achieve with the complaint. Add your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I would like to settle this so that we can continue our business relationship.”


Like smoking, drinking too much and lying on the couch in front of the TV all day, nagging is bad for you. Use these tips, and thanks to a positive attitude you will improve your physical and mental condition.

about the author

Posted by - Dr. Travis Bradberry is a co-author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founder of TalentSmart, a company that provides emotional intelligence testing and training services for 75% of Fortune500 companies.

From translator

Since this is my first experience of publishing a translation, I will be grateful for the reasoned constructive criticism.


JustDont provides a link in the comment in which (in English) this article is parsed. It turns out that it is based on non-existent research and incorrect retelling.
In particular, there are no studies that the hippocampus decreases from elevated cortisol levels. And there is no evidence that nagging raises cortisol levels.


Keroro quotes a book from a book by R. Sapolsky (a prominent scientist), which states that there is a direct connection between “stress hormones” and a decrease in the hippocampus. Frankly, I am not a specialist in neurobiology, and I can’t assess whose words are more significant, and what is the consensus of scientists on this issue. There are pros and cons.

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