Psychology Magazine

Cross-national Negativity Bias in Reacting to News

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
There seems to be a world-wide anxiety industry of media that find maximum profits in presenting mostly negative news - in a way similar to the drug companies that have reaped great profits from flooding distressed population areas with opioids. An interesting study in this area comes from Soroka et al., who provide more information on our human tendency to react more strongly to negative than positive information. (See also my post on Pinker's "Enlightenment Now" book that engages this topic):
What accounts for the prevalence of negative news content? One answer may lie in the tendency for humans to react more strongly to negative than positive information. “Negativity biases” in human cognition and behavior are well documented, but existing research is based on small Anglo-American samples and stimuli that are only tangentially related to our political world. This work accordingly reports results from a 17-country, 6-continent experimental study examining psychophysiological reactions to real video news content. Results offer the most comprehensive cross-national demonstration of negativity biases to date, but they also serve to highlight considerable individual-level variation in responsiveness to news content. Insofar as our results make clear the pervasiveness of negativity biases on average, they help account for the tendency for audience-seeking news around the world to be predominantly negative. Insofar as our results highlight individual-level variation, however, they highlight the potential for more positive content, and suggest that there may be reason to reconsider the conventional journalistic wisdom that “if it bleeds, it leads.”

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