Are We Really Naturally Attracted to Bad News?

Every day we are bombarded with television, radio, internet and newspaper headlines and stories that draw our attention to natural disasters, economic uncertainty, wars and other tragedies that trigger distress and worry in many people.

Did you know that 53.4% of the news on television alone depicts violence, conflict and suffering? The worse the report, the more likely it is to be the lead story because humans are naturally attracted to bad news.

Humans exhibit this attraction to bad news thanks in large part to what is called the negativity bias.  This bias refers to a “psychological phenomenon by which humans pay more attention to and give more weight to negative rather than positive experiences.”  Researchers found that bad news…

  • Attracts the pessimistic side of humans
  • Distracts us from boredom
  • Reminds us that we could have it worse
  • Reminds us to be careful and cautious
  • Often motivates us to take action

This bias helps humans scan their environment for potential dangers so they can learn how to avoid them, but this attraction to negativity can backfire if we allow it.

The brain reacts to negative stimuli with a greater surge in electrical activity. Due this surge, our perceptions are more strongly influenced by bad news than good news.  In fact, negativity is so powerful that researchers have found that it takes five positive experiences to counter one negative experience.  It’s for this reason, in part, that many people struggle with pessimism, anxiety, discouragement and other symptoms of depression.

If you want to learn how to stay positive in a negative world you must expose yourself to as many positive experiences as you can while minimizing exposure to the negative.

Look at marriage for example.  As long as a couple experiences five times as much positive feeling and interaction than negative, the marriage is likely to be stable over time.  If they are unable to maintain the 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity conflict is likely to increase while relationship satisfaction will likely decrease.

Knowing that you have a natural bias toward negativity can help you to consciously direct your focus toward the encouraging, motivating and positive influences around you.  If you do you will increase your potential for staying positive in a very negative world.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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