Scary Sells

Detriments of constant negativity and polarization in news

Conflicts, natural disasters and polarized views consistently top the charts of news stations. There is a constant scroll that only seems to show the world in a negative light. But why? Why do my social media and news feeds only show me negative news? 

Well, negative news sells.  According to the Outbrain, bad news is 30% more likely to catch our attention than good news, due to our inherent biases such as the negative bias. The negative bias is a cognitive bias that results in us giving adverse situations a greater effect on our psychological state than neutral or positive situations. In other words, it is our tendency to register negative stimuli more. 

News stations are aware of this and use it to their advantage by manipulating headlines and pushing out more and more negative news to get our recognition. For example, the title “Scaring Sells” is more likely to catch the readers’ attention than, “Benefits of Reading the News.”  This is otherwise known as clickbait, the advertisement of sensationalized, misleading, and stimulating writing to generate revenue. 

This constant negativity around news affects the mental health of many individuals and creates a pessimistic view of life that can increase stress, creating anxiety in many lives. According to the National Center for Biotechnological Information, around 26.7% of people exposed to negative news go on to develop anxiety. 

The constant distressing news the news stations put out also starts to numb us to traumatic events happening and causes us to lose our sense of empathy. 

Take mass shootings, for instance. They pop up on the news almost daily– leading us to think of it as an event that happens commonly in life– when in reality, school shootings, mall shootings, and public shootings are not the norm.

To combat this mindset we must take our time to learn about the people involved and each individual case to build back the empathy that the news stations have desensitized us to. 

On the other hand, they also tend to be very polarized, to the point viewers from opposite ends are inclined to believe each other to be crazy. On average, 79% of media companies print biased stories for advertisers. This, in return, gives us stories that are meant to fit a certain agenda. Those who believe in that particular agenda tend to only read news from the news station that reinstates their pre-existing beliefs. This is due to the confirmation bias, a cognitive bias in which we only search for information that fits our previous opinions. 

By doing this, news stations create a toxic environment which results in split opposing populations that are set on their beliefs. They think anything that goes against their beliefs is insane because the news they have been reading does not show these opposing viewpoints. 

Overall, news stations need to take a more neutral, non-biased side because their goal should be to inform, not entertain. This will help decrease the overwhelming amount of negative and polarizing news.