“If it bleeds, it leads” has long been a saying used in the media to describe how news stories featuring violence, death and destruction grab readers’ attention – and so dominate the news agenda. And, while many of us are aware of the negative effect that these kinds of story can have on us, it can still be hard to look away. We’re hardwired to sit up and take notice of them.
This “surveillance mode” is thought to be an evolutionary hangover from a time where survival odds were increased when we attended to the threats in our environment.
Research consistently shows bad news can have a negative effect on us. During the pandemic, multiple studies linked news consumption to poorer mental health, documenting symptoms of depression, anxiety, hopelessness and worry. In our research, we found that spending as little as 2-4 minutes on Twitter or YouTube reading about the pandemic affected people’s moods adversely.
However, our latest study has found that looking at positive news stories – specifically, videos and articles featuring acts of kindness – can actually counteract the ill-effects of seeing negative news stories.