In his essay “Toward a Healthy News Diet” author Rolf Dobellis asserts that
“News is to the mind what sugar is to the body”.
Author of the books The Art of Thinking Clearly and The Art of the Good Life, Dobellis essentially claims that we have lost sight of what it truly important and confuse our passive consumption of news with knowledge.
He writes: As a result of news, we walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our head.
- Terrorism is overrated. Chronic stress is underrated.
- The collapse of Lehman is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is underrated.
- Astronauts are overrated. Nurses are underrated.
- Britney Spears is overrated. IPCC Reports are underrated.
- Airplane crashes are overrated. Resistance to antibiotics is underrated.
This attraction to to the negative and our insatiable appetite for upsetting stories are a result of of our built-in “negativity bias“, psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news
According to psychologist Tom Stafford, human beings have are drawn to depressing stories without realizing it. This may be due in part to a survival instinct to pay attention to perceived threats. Or, like Trussler and Soroka assert in their essay Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative News Frames, we pay attention to bad news, because on the whole, we think the world is is more positive than it actually is and we expect all will turn out well in the end. This world view makes bad news all the more surprising and seemingly important. Thus, human beings have cultivated a preference for negative news content. Unfortunately, this preference is having a detrimental effect on our mental health.
So is the solution to stop consuming news altogether? Dobellis says yes, and outlines his reasons in a 2013 article published in the Guardian
Alternatively, Positive News founder Sean Dagan Wood said in a recent TED talk,
“A more positive form of journalism will not only benefit our well-being; it will engage us in society, and it will help catalyze potential solutions to the problems that we face.”
For now, it is up to each of us to take responsibility for our own consumption and digestion of news stories and how we use the information contained therein.