Why Do People Dedicate Their Attention To Focus On Negative News?


Clinical Psychologist

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"If there are two choices of news topic that you can read, the first talks about money politic or political corruptions, and the second talks about a child who wins regional competition, which topic would you prefer?"

" If we heard news from our colleagues about a man who committed suicide by jumping off from 30th floor of the building and a woman, Indonesia representative, who successfully speaks up her idea in front of the world, which one will steal our attention? Or more precise, which one will affect our emotion more?"

News is no more expensive for us. It was precious in the past, but not for today, after the rise of the internet. The internet not only provides speed (like only a millisecond), easy and cheap access, but also provides many topics of the news that we can consume. This choices gives us freedom  to enjoy "the news menu" according to our preference. The news producer cannot fully control our choice, however hard they try,  since the choices is ours. But why, even with this freedom, the negative news tends to make us curious and steal our attention more than the positive one? And why we react quicker to the negative news?

Marc Turssler and Stuart Soroka from Mc Gill University, Canada, try to answer the question by doing some research. The result speaks that people have a tendency to pay attention more to news with negative tones. Most of samples in the research decided to search and read negative news although no one told them to do so. The same result is coming from Cambrige University Press Data about Negativity in Democratic Politics. It concludes, from the data processing, that there is a significant sale improvement (about 30%) experienced by Macean's weekly newsstand magazine when it contains the negative news in it covers. The recent phenomenon emphasizes this result by showing us how the negative news like corruptions, disaster, prostitution, and many more attrack our attention, affect our emotion and also motivate us to react. So, why it happens that way?

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Negativity bias - do people dedicate their attention to focus on negative things?

Negativity bias is a psychological principle of the power of negative things as the cause is more effective than the positive one. In simple words, the negatives steal our attention and affect ourselves more effectively than the positives. We only need one simple negative thing to ruin our mind and switch our attention from several positive things. We can apply this principle in many conditions. When someone is enjoying the party with her fellas (positive things) and all of the sudden feels sad only because realizing that some friend gossiping about her behind her back. She just ignores all the positive things only for one negative thing absorbed into her mind in a second. The other sample is a very common event, when someone decided to hate her/his mate only because she/he made a stupid mistake. This someone take all the negative things in her/his mate and forget all the positive things before. Those negativity biases also happen when we face news. We aware more of the negative news and we will try harder to understand it.

This tendency (why it occurs) explained by John T. Cacioppo in his research about brain performance when someone faces the negative and the positive news. According to the result, human brain shows the higher sensitivity when receiving negative information. Our brain reacts faster and stronger when receiving the negative news. This reaction comes naturally as the effort to protect ourselves. We need to process negative news and use it as a consideration to take a step to avoid the negatives. Thats why we pay more attention to it. In the past, people survived by avoiding dangers, so that human  brain conditioned to compile the news and make the avoidance strategy. Unconsciously, we believe that only by understanding the bad news we can avoid  bad things happen to us.

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This explanation may direct us to believe that the negativity bias is necessary. But actually, it has some disadvantages, especially when we continue conditioned by it without any control from ourselves.  When we continue focusing on the negative news, we tend to overgeneralize the negative news as the current condition of the world, or worse, as the definition of our life. Finally we live in fear. We see everything in pessimistic perspective. Furthermore, some people take the advantage of negativity bias on the people around them to reach their goal. Fear mongering is coming from using the negativity bias as the strategy to get people attention. The fact spoke that many of us attached (attention or emotion) to the negatives. As the result, we choose to avoid the risk than to try the opportunity. In the end, negativity bias hinders our steps or even points us to take wrong steps.

All of these explanations aim us to take control of our focus on something. Aside from understanding about negativity bias, we need to control it by :

1.       Balancing the input received by our brain by paying attention to the positive news. Get used to search good news and let our brain understand and process it as a strength and a courage (two variables that we need to rise and shine). A neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson P.hD explained that  tilting towards is a strategy to control the negativity bias.
2.       Trying to enjoy and search for the meaning of every good news we get. It is not easy to empathize on something that has nothing to do with us, but it isn't a rocket science tho.
3.       Trying to stop spreading bad news, principally if there is no advantage that we can get from it. Except we may  spread fear to others by spreading negative news, we also sink our mind deeper in negativity.

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