By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory
Reading the news is often depressing and traumatic these days. Hatred and bigotry seem to be on the rise. There’s violence everywhere, economies are crumbling, and the whole planet is going through a period of mass extinction and unprecedented rates of climate change. Of course, this doesn’t mean that good things aren’t happening in the world. There are a lot of wholesome stories out there waiting to be covered. Then why on earth are we constantly being bombarded with this negativity?
There’s a reason for it. We secretly love bad news.
It’s not that we want bad things to happen. Our brains are just wired to make us pay more attention to these possible threats first and foremost. Just imagine! Throughout our lives, we are constantly being fed information and it is impossible for our brains to properly process each and every bit of it. Since our brains are hardwired to ensure that we pay attention to what is most important for our survival, we rely heavily on the information we can see. Whatever we hear is sent to a part of the temporal lobe called the amygdala, a built-in radar to detect threats in our surrounding.
A marvel of natural engineering, the amygdala analyzes all the information our senses pick up looking for threats. The amygdala came into existence during a period of evolution in which human beings literally had to worry about carnivorous predators in the foliage around them. If there was a movement in the bushes, the human brain would immediately associate it with a lion or a tiger and even if it was only correct once, that is enough to save a person’s life.
We no longer have to worry about wild things in bushes but our amygdalas work overtime by making us focus on all the horrible things happening in the world. Despite the sheer volume of news stories printed every day, we are automatically drawn to the ones that are negative and journalism houses know this well enough to use it to their advantage.
In his groundbreaking work, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate became the first to talk about cognitive biases. We are inherently biased towards negativity which is why these stories jump out at us as opposed to happy news. Due to confirmation bias, we also search for information that substantiates our own preconceived ideas which due to cognitive bias are already negative.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that we are constantly stuck in a frame of mind where most of our thoughts are full of negativity. The amygdala is always alert because we keep seeing threats to our lives every day be it in the form of new diseases, violent crime, or even the melting of the glaciers. This constant flow of information ensures that the amygdala stays in a state of maximum alertness. Effectively it eliminates wholesome news stories and unfortunately, we end up focusing on all the horrible things we’d rather not think about.
Image Credit: Ion Chiosea