Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

“If it bleeds it leads”

Have you ever thought about an amount of bad news you hear every day? Or maybe, could you remind yourself the last good news you hear about?
Latterly, every time I turn on TV, radio or open any newspaper I have low odds to come across such topics as crisis, shootings, or corruption. And unfortunately, every time it convinces me how terrifying this world is. A level of cortisol in my blood increases because it seems that evil is closer and closer. And finally, I’m wondering if any bigger good happens that is worthy to show during evening news. Of course, except for celebrities’ weddings, divorces, private life confessions or shocking faux pas in dress code. These issues find their place between one tragedy and another - I am supposed to be cool about it. However, still - isn’t true that bad news rush everyday headlines?
In my opinion it is truth. And luckily for me there are scientists of the same point of view. Trussler and Soroka (2014) did a study wherein asked people to choose some articles from a news website to read in order to measure their eye-tracking. Of course, they hid a real purpose of their study. What shouldn’t be surprising in the context of this paper, most participants chose negative stories. Even though at the same time they declared that they preferred good news and discommended media that provided overfull negative facts. In another study that was focused on electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex, it was also proved that people react stronger to negative stimuli, e.g. a mutilated face than positive or neutral one (Ito, Larsen, Smith,& Cacioppo, 1998).
Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, and Vohs (2011) made a wide review of studies to answer the question whether bad is stronger than good. Trying to answer the above, they were searching for proofs in many fields including reacting to events, relationships, emotions, learning, memory, information processing , health etc. Evidences indicate that we respond strongly to bad things. In particular it applies to those bad news that retain in our unawareness even after an extinction of behavior changes that were caused by a negative stimuli.
Michael J. Robinson (People & the Press American, 2007) went a step further and focused only on topics of news and prepared synthesis of 165 American surveys. He found that topics such a war, terrorism, disasters were in top 5 categories that had attracted people between 1986-2006.

Robinson,M. J. (2007). The news interest index 1986–2007: Two decades of American news preferences/Part 1: Analyzing what news the public follows- and doesn’t follow.

Indeed, there is no doubt that our news are overfull by pervasive mares. Why is that happening? Most studies mention a term “negativity bias”. To understand it, we need to start from the very beginning. Thus, in the beginning there was a fear that kept us alive. Being better responsive to dangerous situation, such as for example a meeting with wild animals, our odds to survive and pass genes increased significantly (Baumesiter et al., 2001). Unfortunately, times of our ancestors weren’t romantic and a rustle of leaves couldn’t be treated as a singing of nature and a doubtful entertainment was running away from a tiger.
Daniel Kahneman (2011) a man who whole life studies psychology perspective of decision-making, as well as behavioral economics, also brings the theory of fast reacting for bad signs of predator in his book Thinking fast and slow (2001). Moreover, he writes about human “mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news and pay our attention that bad words such a crime or war (which we can hear in media everyday) attract our attention faster that happy ones.
When we’ve already known our original “tendency to bad”, following Rozin and Royzman (2001) we can understand that negativity bias is “a principle that comes out in most situations, whereas negative events are more salient, potent, dominant in combinations, and generally efficacious than positive events.”
Actually, I’ve also found another, a little different but still an interesting explanation. I would like to mention John Allen Paulos (1990), a famous American mathematician, who was tempted to write in his book Innumeracy that our focusing on bad news is a part of probability theory and was mostly related to people leaving in big cities, but it isn’t now. Why? According to statistics, unusual accidents aren’t very often. However, in population of millions of people, a probability that something bad will happen is higher. Even 1% becomes important and significant in ratio of an average city. Thus, the bigger population you live in, you are more aware of the occurred accidents. Nevertheless, times are changing and now when most people have access to news from all over the world, the prevalence of bad news increases for everyone.
The truth is that no matter which theory we are more susceptible with regard to daily bad breaking news, we definitely spend more time focusing on them what is very profitable for media concerns.
Of course, the solution is not to stop watching TV, listening to radio or using computer – however this idea probably would be quite useful for many of us not only in this case. Anyway, every day we should try to concentrate on a good that surrounds us. I believe that thanks to that, we will see the difference in our attitude to the life. And if someone asks you to remind yourself last news, please remember, it should be something good that made you smile.
Trussler, M.,& Soroka, S. (2014). Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative News Frames. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 19(3), 360–79.
Ito, T. A., Larsen, J. T., Smith, N. K., & Cacioppo,J. T. (1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: The negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 887-900.
Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C.,&Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370.
Robinson,M. J. (2007). The news interest index 1986–2007: Two decades of American news preferences/Part 1: Analyzing what news the public follows- and doesn’t follow. Retrieved November 12, 2016, from
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow (pp. 300-302). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 296-320.
Paulos, J. A. (1990). Innumeracy: mathematical illiteracy and its consequences. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

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