Why We're Drawn to Bad News

"If it bleeds, it leads" - says the old news saying (origin theory here). 

Whether we're talking about newspaper, the local news, or financial journalism, fear sells. All you need is to take a cursory look at most news sources to confirm this. We are drawn to bad news. It's something I've noticed (in myself and in others) for awhile now, but I've never heard why this necessarily is the truth. 

Then I came across this Twitter thread by Dr. Daniel Crosby, one of my favorite thinkers. He cites research done in 1998 by Dr. John Cacioppo that ran some interesting studies. 

People were shown pictures with positive (Ferrari), neutral (hairdryer), and negative (dead bird) connotations, and had the electronic activity of the brain recorded for each of them. Dr. Cacioppo discovered that the more negative the stimulus, the more electrical activity was generated by the cerebral cortex - the most highly developed part of our human brains. 

It turns out, our brains work overtime to process and hold onto bad information for a very specific reason - to keep us alive, and away from danger. Good things are nice and all, but bad things can kill us. This worked well back in the days when we had to hide from tigers, or worry about famine. Today - not so much. 

We're literally wired to survive - not to thrive. And this wiring tends to overemphasize fear.


So next time we're gripped by fear of a recession, market crash, job loss, or other uncertainty - take time to realize that our brain is working overtime to try and keep us alive. And also realize that most news sources sensationalize bad news because they know we the audience will pay more attention.

Additional Resources

1. Forbes (Joshua Becker) - Why We Should Stop Celebrating Consumerism (3 minute read)
High conviction read for me, as someone who deceives himself into thinking that I'm better at this than I really am. We should celebrate success with each other - absolutely. But at some point we conflated success with consumerism, and assumed that success was demonstrated by what we own or where we go. Becker lists 7 reasons why should stop celebrating consumerism, all the while not necessarily condemning good things in life - just the (over) pursuit and celebration of them.

2. 10Q
Longtime Fident Friday readers may recognize this, as I've now mentioned it for multiple years. This is an exercise I started doing in 2014, and absolutely cherish. You are asked 10 questions at the end of September - one every day for ten days. Your answers are stored in a vault, and sent back to you 12 months from now. It is SUPER fascinating to see my answers over the years. I'm a somewhat frequently journaler, but there's something different to this approach. I highly, highly recommend you trying it. 

3. Twitter - @dmuthuk 
I originally read this around Sept 15th, and have literally thought about it every single day since. If Americans were to measure poverty by time, and not wealth, most of us would be broke. Your's truly included. It's a reason I've tried, unsuccessfully, to try and eliminate answering "Busy" when someone asks how I'm doing. Give it some thought in your own life.
What fear do you have? And is it rational - or is our brain working overtime creating unnecessary fear? 

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