Why Bad News Grabs Our Attention

mental health personal growth relationships Jun 05, 2019

Every day we are bombarded with television, radio, internet and newspaper headlines and stories that draw our attention to bad news.  We hear and read about natural disasters, economic uncertainty, wars and other tragedies that serve to 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. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily 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 there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between a husband and wife as there is negative, the marriage is likely to be stable over time.  If a couple is unable to maintain the 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity conflict is likely to increase while relationship satisfaction will likely decrease.

There will always be bad news somewhere in the world or in your own life, but understanding your natural bias toward negativity can help you to consciously direct your focus toward the encouraging, motivating and positive influences around you.  You will be much happier and more optimistic if you make the effort to do that!

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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