Heart sign with fingers placed atop a newspaper, with a headline announcing an award for dedication to peace

New research shows stories of kindness can heal the harmful effects of bad news

"We’re fundamentally decent, and that’s worth clinging to."

Tanmoy Goswami
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Today's edition of the Happy Things series is a wonderfully uplifting piece by Kathryn Buchanan, psychology lecturer at the University of Essex. There's a dispiriting narrative out there that the 24/7 torrent of bad news is doing irreversible damage to us. But Buchanan's latest research shows that we may have a powerful new (old) antidote to this affliction: consuming more stories on human kindness. If you feel kindness is too wispy and frail in the face of the hammer blow of evil, take heart. As with everything else on Sanity, this piece is free to read. Share liberally.

“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.

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