Inner Workings of the Human Mind

Molly Gaffey
Second Year Student, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design


Pen and ink


As an illustration of the human brain’s tendency to favor negative thoughts over positive ones, this work highlights the overwhelming negative thinking patterns one may experience. Through the medium of pen and ink, handwritten thoughts (most of which are negative) occupy the shape of a brain, emphasizing the human brain’s inclination to compose itself of defeatist contemplation.

My brain can be both an aid and also a hindrance. I used to think that thoughts were black and white, but I’ve come to realize that I constantly have a mixture of positive and negative thoughts on any given day. Like anything else, though, the ratio isn’t simply one to one. In this depiction, I have handwritten the thoughts I often have on a bad day. Mixed within the negative thoughts many can relate to are a handful of positive thoughts. This is done to emphasize that, although our overall mood often informs our thoughts, we can still think “happy” thoughts when we’re “sad” and vice versa. This piece was just as much about its creation as the final work. The thoughts making up the brain naturally came to mind as I began writing.

The overall scientific concept addressed within the piece is that of negativity bias. Simply put, negativity bias is the brain’s tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and give unpleasant experiences more weight than positive ones. In other words, negativity is ordinary thinking for nearly every single person. However, it is not the preferred way of thinking for most. As an individual with a generalized anxiety disorder, I have had to train my brain to diverge my initial negative thoughts (that are often untrue) to more positive ones. With years of practice, I can generally succeed in rerouting my brain and my thoughts. However, there are some days that are too much to erase all the negative tendencies. This piece is a direct illustration of those days. I try to switch my thinking (represented by a handful of positive affirmations), but I am consumed by negative thinking. My intention with creating this piece is to emphasize that the way we think is not as cut and dry as it is sometimes made out to be. Although more people are becoming aware of the importance of mental health, our individual tendency to keep our emotions to ourselves is still in need of change. By acknowledging the scientific tendencies of our brains, it will help to normalize getting mental health assistance and help from others.