Ever wonder why there’s so much bad news out there?
A study involving more than 1,000 people across 17 countries spanning every continent but Antarctica concludes that, on average, people pay more attention to negative news.
“In a period during which news around the world is especially wrought with negativity, this subject is of obvious significance,” the study authors wrote.
Lead author Stuart Soroka, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said he and his colleagues were interested in the psychology of negativity biases — the tendency for people to pay more attention to negative information than positive information.
Among academics, one explanation was that “journalists were angry people and skeptics and they produced a bunch of negative content,” Soroka said. “Our suspicion was that the way news looked … [was] more about what audiences responded to.”
There are some evolutionary reasons as to why negativity bias exists, scientists said. It can be much riskier to ignore negative information (a storm is coming) than good news (a dog is rescued.) Paying attention to negative news, they said, is generally an effective survival strategy.
The researchers found that, on average, a slight majority across countries and cultures showed a bias toward more negative news. However, they also found that on an individual level, there seems to be a high level of variability in responses.
“It’s not the case that most people want mostly negative news all the time,” Soroka said. “And knowing that, I think, opens up other possibilities where news is concerned.”