Bad News Bias: Negative Stories Get More Attention

It's no secret that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly negative in its coverage of President Donald Trump, but that is just one part of an overall negative tone to most news coverage, from national networks to local outlets. After all, the old adage in TV news is "if it bleeds, it leads." Now, new research shows all of that negativity in the news may be driven by human nature. "There is a considerable body of work suggesting that the human brain prioritizes negative information over positive information," says Dr. Stuart Soroka, the study's lead author.

Specifically, the study examined more than 1,100 people across 17 countries to gauge their response and attention level to news with both a positive and negative bent. The research found that a majority of respondents paid more attention to negative news than positive news. Soroka believes the instinct toward negative news is hard-wired into most people. "(Humans know) information that we need to pay attention to is information that requires some change in behavior...that tends to mean negative information," he says. "For instance, a plane landing doesn't require any change in our behavior, whereas a plane crashing might."

The results of the study could go a long way toward explaining the coverage we see across most of the news media. "There certainly is a norm in media to prioritize negative information," says Soroka. "And that is both because the people making media are humans and have the same biases other humans do, and because they are creating news for humans."

"We tend to blame journalists (for negative news)...the news is negative because journalists are just bitter, but that's often not the case," says Soroka. "It's probably the case that news is negative because audiences are often interested in negative news."

But not everyone is a Debby Downer. The study found about 2 in 5 subjects had either no news bias or actually paid more attention to positive news. So there is still a market for good news, as well.

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