Sunday, 31 July 2011

No News is Good News

"99.99% of what happens is not in the news." - Unknown 

‘Kills dozens’, ‘hopeful’, ‘nine die’, ‘killings’, ‘pardoned’, ‘suicide attack’, ‘unrest’, ‘famine’, ‘plane crash’, honoured’, ‘killed’, ‘lottery win’, ‘killer’, ‘unrest’, ‘protest’...etc.

And so goes a brief and unscientific summary of the World news listed on the BBC website today, Sunday 31 July 2011. I think it’s pretty conclusive:

The news is bad, very bad with a tiny smattering of hope.

The news is hard to avoid, emblazoned on newspapers, repeated again and again on TV and radio and all over the internet. But what is the ‘news’? Of the just under 7 billion people living on the Earth, only a fraction would have been directly affected by any of the headlines above. That’s not to belittle the importance of any of those events, it’s just that:

The news is in no way representative of what’s really happening in the World. 

It’s a good job too, if it were, life would be pretty miserable for everyone. The problem is, constant exposure to such a biased picture of the World can make us believe that this planet is a fairly miserable place to be. 

Even worse, constant bombardment by such negativity can actually make the world more miserable, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s very rare that we see positive events on the news and amazingly, even when they are reported, some dire warning is normally included, ‘People living longer but fears of a care crisis for the elderly’, for example. 

Generally, if we want to read about positive events, we won’t see them on the mainstream news, we’ll have to make a real effort search them out for ourselves.

So how did it all happen, how did the news become so dire?

I was recently reading a very interesting article in a magazine called Psychology Today. Scientific research has shown that the brain responds much more strongly to negative stimuli, (like pictures of physical injuries) than positive stimuli (a pleasant beach for example). 

Of course this served us very well in our distant history. When we lived in a world where danger lurked around every corner, we needed a system where we couldn’t fail to notice danger and respond to it. 

If there was a tiger on the prowl for example, our survival would’ve depended on us paying rapt attention to that news and going through all the possible permutations it could have.
The problem in the modern world, is that our highly sensitive danger apparatus are under a constant onslaught from terrible and fearful tales from across the globe. The vast majority of these will never come close to touching our lives. 

This is no accident, the media industry knows that ‘bad news sells’ or more accurately, ‘fear sells’. In reality:

The vast majority of news we are exposed to is a massive manipulation of a highly sensitive survival apparatus which we developed in a very different time.

Day after day, we are drawn in further and further, paying rapt attention to that ‘tiger on the prowl’.

Of course we shouldn’t ignore the positive impact news can have. News coverage about a disaster, famine or injustice can motivate people to act and bring relief. 

In my opinion, maintaining an awareness of world events is a responsible way to live. But I think that’s possible without exposing ourselves to constant instalments of the fear generating media machine. In the end it’s all about balance.

5:1 the magic ratio

In the article I mentioned earlier, researchers discovered something very interesting. To counteract the tendency to react more strongly to negative stimuli, exposure to five positive stimuli was needed for every negative one. 

Researchers found that this naturally happened in many areas of life, successful relationships being one example.

For me, an awareness of that ratio has been a real eye-opener. It certainly puts a different perspective on watching the evening news.

Image courtesy of nofrills


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