Thanks Jim, totally agree! The media knows we’re primed to look for negative stimuli. They know fear is captivating. The saying “if it bleeds, it leads” isn’t just a colloquialism. It’s an evolutionary hangover that’s at the centre of the modern day media machine’s business model. That’s why 95% of our news is negative.
We’ve also got a number of cognitive biases that make the bad news effect more profound. We have a negativity bias, which is the tendency to give far more weight to negative details than positive ones. And we have a confirmation bias, which is our tendency to selectively look at information that confirms our preexisting notions. This is the work for which Daniel Kahneman recently won his Nobel Prize.
So the whole thing operates as a sort of bad news feedback loop. The media tells us bad news, which gives us a negative view of the world. We then go looking for news that confirms this notion, and of course there’s plenty of it out there, so the cycle starts again.