A piece of positive news, according to theorists like Martin Seligman, has a greater overall effect on the way we perceive things, but does not cement itself as something pertinent to remember in our minds, due to the high levels of negatively framed headlines that we are exposed to in the contemporary age.
Seligman observed that we tend to create more complex and meaningful evaluations of a crisis situation rather than a positive one. This is probably because any negative situation or information probably has a way to resolve itself, which is something we automatically begin to concern ourselves with upon reading a piece of information. This promotes the mind to make more and more associations about the nature of a problem, and the various ways in which it can be resolved, even though it doesn’t directly concern itself with us.
This tendency to create more complex evaluations of situations that are presented in a certain way, is known as negativity potency. It basically entails that these negative blurbs tend to attract more evaluation. Another phenomenon associated with the reading of negative news is ‘negativity bias’, which basically states that we tend to have a preference for creating memories related to negative events, because they require some form of resolution that we tend to ruminate over.
It is quite probable that the human mind could tend to show a prioritized tendency towards digesting negative information because of the nature of media that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Maybe reframing the way things are framed on news channels, and in newspapers can cause a change in the way we tend to evaluate things. A higher exposure to negative media probably aligns our beliefs and evaluations in a certain way that may not be so favorable. The apt curation of media could thus have the potential to curate our beliefs in a more streamlined manner as well.
When we read the news, we often come across blurbs and headlines that outline major crises. Floods, earthquakes and typhoons are natural disasters that we can’t avoid. These have to be presented in a negative light in order for us to understand the gravity of a calamity. But, what about matters that plague society? What about all the negative press that individuals are given on the front pages of newspapers? Can these be framed in ways that don’t incriminate, and stir up doubt and unnecessary speculation?
Reading something that has negative tonality obviously leaves a sour taste in our mouth about the state of affairs within a context. It also makes us more susceptible to being emotionally ‘moved’ by negative news. According to the Broaden and Build Theory, displaying and experiencing a higher degree of uplifting and positive emotions prepares us to develop more resources to interact and cope within the social world. While negative emotions are associated with key aspects such as fight and flight, theorist Alice Isen said that they only serve short-term purpose.
Even though we do tend to create more complex, structured arguments out of negative news because of the speed of rumination we have developed over time with exposure, we must try to reframe the text we read in our own heads rather than relying on external opinions, that themselves rely on individual expertise for curation and distribution. When we think we’re thinking straight upon being exposed to media, we often take the way we form opinions for granted.
We’ve been looking extensively at the distortions we face unassumingly in our lived experience. Watch this space for more!
Content and reference material curated by Vikram Kirtikar and Dhruvi Jhaveri (Consulting Psychologists, Type a Thought)
An undergraduate in Psychology, Shantanu is an aspiring Educational Psychologist who will be pursuing his Master’s in 2018 at the Ohio State University. He is adept with psychometric and statistical research, and has honed his grasp over psychology through a 4 year undergraduate course in Liberal Education at FLAME University, Pune.