Why We Like Bad News

If you read the headlines today, you probably
come away feeling like
the world is a scary, dangerous, hopeless
But in reality, many things are better now
than ever.
Worldwide homicide rates have largely been
dropping for centuries, for example,
and global life expectancy keeps climbing.
So why all the bad news?
It’s easy to put the blame on the media
for running
sensational, negative news stories that’ll
sell papers; if it bleeds, it leads, as they say.
But who’s buying those papers?
Like, we are. And there’s a psychological reason for that.
Even if we say we prefer good news, we are
wired to pay more attention to bad news.
But here’s a surprise: social media might
be the antidote.
The media isn’t making it up: there really
is higher consumer demand for negative news.
In 2007, the Pew Research Center released
data on
US consumer news preferences over the last
two decades.
Throughout that time, the most popular topics
stayed pretty reliable:
war and terrorism, bad weather, and human-made
and natural disasters. Bad news all around.
A 2012 study found a clue as to why.
In that study, participants were hooked up
to biosensors to watch a series of news stories.
The negative stories brought on stronger and
more sustained reactions
in the participants’ heart rates and skin
conductance levels than positive stories did.
As an explanation, the researchers in that
pointed to a long-established phenomenon:
negativity bias.
That’s the tendency for negative things,
all else being equal,
to have a bigger effect on us than positive
Specifically, negative things stick out more in your
mind and tend to outweigh any other good things.
Your brain also processes the negative more
thoroughly than the positive.
For example, people tend to describe negative
with more complex language than they do positive
The weird thing is that there’s also a positivity
That’s the tendency for people to form mostly
positive theories about reality.
And that contradiction, in itself, also has
a name: positive-negative asymmetry.
Basically, we assume things will be mostly good,
but we still place more importance on bad things.
For one thing, they’re more rare, and for
ignoring them is a bigger risk than paying
them too much attention.
The thinking is that this helps us survive.
Assuming things will turn out okay motivates
people to explore the world,
whether that’s venturing out of their cave
or asking someone out on a date.
But at the same time, being vigilant about
the negative
helps people avoid danger while they’re
doing that exploring.
That may be why negative headlines are so
good at grabbing our attention.
A 1991 study had participants read negative,
positive, and neutral words
printed in different colors and asked them
to name the colors as quickly as possible.
It took longest for them to name the colors
of negative words, and according to researchers,
that’s because they couldn’t help but
pay attention to the word itself.
In a study from 2003, researchers flashed
negative and positive words
at participants at a pace too fast for them
to consciously register.
They still got a sense for the words on a
subconscious level, but didn’t read them exactly.
Still, those participants got a stronger impression
of the negative words than the positive words.
And a 2014 study found that even people who said
they preferred positive news stories still
gravitated toward negative ones.
In other words, time and again, it’s been shown
that we’re more aware of, and drawn to, the negative.
But believe it or not, there may be a glimmer
of hope, thanks to social media, of all things.
In 2010, the New York Times released an analysis
of over 7,000 articles,
showing the more positive an article was,
the more likely it was to be shared, and to go viral.
And another study in 2017 showed that people
using YouTube and Twitter
prefer sharing positive content over negative
Why is this? It may come down to the difference between
how people use social media and how they use
traditional media.
We consume the news as outside observers,
but we use social media as active participants.
People post, tweet, and email links to signal
things about themselves
and communicate with the rest of the world.
And just like in real life, if you’re a
Debbie Downer who fills people’s feeds with
too much sad, scary, or maddening content,
you risk turning people off.
And that could sway our feeds to feel more
However, researchers note that studying emotional
whether something is perceived as positive
or negative,
is different from studying what researchers
call arousal,
which tracks whether or not something activates
the nervous system and helps us feel.
It turns out that high arousal makes more
of an impact on the decision to share something
than whether it’s positive or negative,
especially if what’s being shared taps into
feelings of awe, anger, or anxiety.
And that might explain why some people feel
like the tone and the content
of what’s being shared online has changed
a lot in recent years.
It’s not ALL adorable cat pictures, unfortunately.
But don’t count out the bad news.
Researchers hypothesize that negativity bias
is there to keep us vigilant about what can hurt us,
and the media is there to keep us abreast
of threats, problems, and wrongdoing in the world.
If we shield ourselves from negative news,
we can’t do anything to protect ourselves,
or to make it right.
So yes, enjoy that feel-good story your aunt
shared on Facebook,
but don’t discount the gloomy headlines
Those headlines help us make the world a better
Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
and a huge thanks to our patrons, who we love
and appreciate
every single day here at SciShow headquarters.
If you’re interested in helping us make
awesome videos,
head on over to patreon.com/scishow to get

100 Replies to “Why We Like Bad News”

  1. I think a big thing to consider is that for the most part … 'good news' is often just fluff or not news at least as protrayed by the news. For example, good news 1. person x has happy thing happen to them. This is a very common 'feel good' story and its just empty like its good for them but not important to the world, and you get this with sad things too but usually its more relatable or there is a reason for it since there is already enough bad news. News 2. Statistically things a better than they were X years ago. This isn't news because its not new (unless its a study) and also no one can ever feel this I don't know what a 50% drop in crime feels like because I only know what the now is like thats the problem with humans getting used to things we lose the perspective we may have once had.

  2. I need to pay more attention to bad weather news. I should probably know about hurricanes before the grocery store runs out of bread and water.

  3. Well it's nice to know people are unlikely to spread negative news stories about injustice and planetary destruction and stuff. Wait…

  4. You are only considering bad news that is within people's ideas already. Most of it is propaganda. What is stunning is that people don't want real news. Conspiracy (I mean corruption) in one's own side is not generally listened to, especially when people have gotten used to lies. People pay attention in a way but don't read, yes, and block the information.

  5. I had a period when I read economic depression porn during the financial crisis/Eurocrisis, but now after it do I see a pattern and realize that I am happier if I don't follow the news and I don't overreact to small events if I focus on the bigger picture.
    Pessimism is better than optimisim in many ways, and makes you prepared for tomorrow and you avoid taking stupid risk due to over-optimism. But best of all is to be a realist. Then you don't make stupid mistakes like optimists, and you don't act overly cautious and miss out of great oppurtunities.

  6. Once, the cover page of a newspaper had only good news. As I usually did, in the morning, on the bus to work, I only read the front page and That day I was happier, I wanted to do more things, help others. Just later that day, when I was reading the rest of the newspaper was that I realized the cover page, was not the real cover page but an ad from a bank. Anyway, that ad made my day!

  7. I beg to differ. Many bad news are used these days to fill the minds with useless fear for very unlikely stuff to get other stuff that affects the people way more done in the background.
    Good stuff like major sports events is also used that way. For example in germany they usually push the sketchy decisions through the "Bundestag" during the soccer worlds / eu finals. Works sadly pretty well.

  8. I prefer positive news. I mean really. My favourite political news channel is Turley Talks because he always have such an positive outlook on the world. And I like entertainment like watching an elephant in Indias zoo getting water in the hot summer heat and get filled with happiness. I love to laugh and get entertained after a harsh day at work.

  9. But this actually illustrates why social media is worse than tradition news. It allows you to grab the news that you specifically like and participate only in it, and spread only the new you like. I'd rather people at least see the unbiased negative and positive news, instead of be in a bubble.

  10. I don't buy macabre papers, Google automatically pushes it to my phone. I even tell it "less of this content" and it continues to push unwanted stuff of this nature.

  11. I'm always hooked up to news about Bolsonaro doing something dictatorial and stupid because I view positively that his rule might come to an end sooner.

  12. I'm studying psychology at university and we just recently covered attention. What I thought was interesting is the "weapon focus effect" in which a threatening stimulus is likely to hold a persons attention. This explains why people can get information wrong about a traumatic event but usually they have a very accurate memory of the weapon.

  13. "Humans like bad news?" — Does this mean we aren't human if we don't like bad news?
    I definitely don't like bad news, nor do I want to read or watch bad news. If I didn't feel compelled by the need to be an informed member of community, I would absolutely avoid bad news! For those that need good news I suggest listening to https://www.thegoodnewspodcast.fm/

  14. In my experience with MSM reporting, when they blather on about something negative, I find on closer examination the story in my world is far more positive.

  15. I think there is a large aspect of schadenfreude about it too. We enjoy hearing about bad things happening to others because we get to feel better about our own situation. Omg it’s so horrible over there, wow things don’t seem so bad over here now.

  16. I think the truly difficult things we'll have the most trouble dealing with are those that we're not talking/worried about now. In a weird sense, worrying about something means you'll likely do something about it which solves it. A problem which you don't recognise as one, on the other hand…

  17. Why are your homicide rate and life expectancy statistics only from Western Europe? That seems like it is intended to mislead considering a majority of your audience is probably from the US and considering how little of the worlds population is represented by Western Europe.

  18. This is interesting, if we’re more “wired” to notice the bad over the good, what does that make of the nostalgia effect?

  19. Hank: "But, believe it or not, there may be a glimmer of hope thanks to social media, of all things."

    8Chan: "Hold my beer"
    4Chan: "Mine too."

  20. But the news usually only gives no advice or bad advice about how to deal with threats. This is how news needs to change.

  21. isn't it merely due to the fact that negative things need to be stopped, remedied, acted upon, whatever ? you can't respond if you're not aware. I do though feel overwhelmed with anxiety and anger lately in these crazy times. But my cure is foolproof : I've been watching the Dodo Youtube channel animal rescue videos til I get that warm fuzzy feeling. muhaha, take that Trumpety Dump.

  22. Dunno, I read news not because I enjoy bad or good ones but because I need to stay informed. Some news are just objectively important.

  23. My cousin and I were just talking about this the other day. I boiled it down to basically anthropology. This is more elaborate, I love it.

  24. social media will always have a large cesspool of negativity on it. it wont make it better unless people stop being so negative about everything.
    problem is the negativity generates a lot more clicks, comments, likes, reshares and such. people get the rush from their post getting attention, then do the same or have hotter takes, trying to get that same rush. it's like a combined game and drug.

  25. I have lots of anxiety, so I've been working on reminding myself of the positive when I start focusing on the negative. It helps. 🙂

  26. I got out of the 1:N broadcast model of media years ago. Listen to Television, the Drug Of A Nation by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and you'll see they were right on.

  27. Posts sad content on ig: Makes viewers feel sad

    Posts happy content on ig: Makes viewers feel sad b/c they’re not as happy

    *Insert bad luck Brian meme here*

  28. So, why is it that we pay attention and kind of like bad news but not from people we know? (Regarding Hank saying we skip these people on the social media.)

  29. If I read the headlines today, I come to think the world is on fire … literally, because it is. I want more good news, but bad news is all I can find … https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/21/wildfires-july-hottest-month-ever-fires-rage-across-globe/2070418001/

  30. I think I prefer practical or relevant news vs "positive" or "negative". News that is more relevant to my general interests or are more practical to my life, I will pay more attention to, whether it's positive or negative.

  31. Traditional news offers very little (in terms of usefulness) in this day and age (and maybe ever). Most of it is heavily skewed in one perspective or another. People are being told a story, assuming it's fact and then proceeding on with their lives as if it is. When, in fact, many times it's not true at all. I hope traditional news dies as soon as it can. We aren't here to be fed stories, we are here to learn and evolve.

  32. Ya the news saying "everythings great and the weather is great" WHY AM I WATCHING THIS 😏 funny cat videos on Instagram tho 😭😂😅yessssss

  33. I dont watch/read news BECAUSE of bad and sensational news. The world in the news looks much worse than it actually is.

  34. “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”
    – Douglas Adams

  35. Social media is all about ego, that's why good news populate there, ego don't want ugly bad things around.
    News media is about others, we can accept we are good, others are bad.

  36. Telling a huge amount of insignificant bad news keep the focus off of all the really bad things that are being done to us by our own government.

  37. I feel like whatever Hank Green may accomplish in the future he will always be remembered for Sci Show. He could win a Nobel prize and people would still greet him on the street as "Hey you are the guy from SciShow"

  38. I want to hear more about the science behind the last statement that staying exposed to negative news "helps us make the world a better place". Is this in a video already, if yes, please point me to it, if not then please make that video.

  39. Hmm….I think I'd rather be informed about how many years our planet can sustain life, instead of knowing the cute name of the puppy you just bought.

    Making mistakes, recognizing failure, and assuming the worst do far more to help us in life than succeeding or affirmations. Just an opinion, though…

  40. You can say we're living longer than ever and homicide rates ate down and stuff… but it literally doesn't change the fact that we are killing ourselves as a species with climate change or doing stupid stuff like burning the Amazon Rainforest.

  41. Wait, what is the grade line between "positive media" and "negative media" shared?

    Are we talking about something wholesome? Say like, guy helps cat from tree? Something humane? Say like, community helps rebuild neighbor's home after fire? Or are these studies based on political preferences?

    Edit: oh, there it is. That explains a lot. Orange man bad is real good at getting emotions high.

  42. Could you do something on dunning-Krüger; hindsight-bias, confirmation bias or another cognitive bias?

  43. In addition, consider the instinctual desire to destroy. As in Sandor Grau booklet Ä Practitioners Guide to What Works…" It was also posited by Freud that we have a destructive instinct, as well as constructive, life-affirming instincts.

  44. With each passing day I question whether I'm a human just a little bit more. This time it's because I generally despise bad news almost as much as irrelevant news when apparently humans are supposed to like bad news and loads of people regularly consume irrelevant news.

  45. Pay no attention to that Pollyanna Aristotle with his "catharsis" nonsense. The reason we still flock to "Hamlet" is that when we walk out we can say to ourselves, "At least I'M not dead," and "At least I'M NOT THAT STUPID!" Just as we read obituaries to say, with satisfaction, "I remember him. He was four classes behind me at school."

  46. When things go as they should(positive) the brain doesn't want to waste energy doing unnecessary thinking, and the opposite in order to prevent more negative things from happening to itself(the person who owns that brain) and thinking about them, in the form of problems requires thinking/reasoning in order to solve them and return in the peaceful state of energy conservation.
    We give more attention to negative even if it happens on the other side of the planet to keep our brain alert for threats that might come to us so we know how to handle them.
    Makes sense all the way back when we were living in caves and hunting.
    Now give me my Ph.D. in psychology please.

  47. My problem is when they push the bad news just to push bad news. A car accident in another state is sad, but it's not something that I can effect or effects me.

  48. "GamerGate is why mass shootings are on the rise!!!" is not helping us prepare for and cope with bad things. Neither is "You won't believe what celebrity did!!! THIS WILL SHOCK YOU"

    A positive fluff attitude towards an increasingly corrosive media situation is not a good thing, even if it's more convenient for you now.

  49. I have an even more important question. At 5:35 how can you say "this episode of scishow psych" that quickly?
    When I try it it becomes a random mess of 'pspispisppisisp'… xD

  50. Unless you can go out and make a difference yourself, don't pay too much mind to the news. That will only hinder your ability to become powerful enough to actually make change in the future. I'm NOT religious but the serenity prayer rings true here: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

  51. Okay but how will the news story on my tiny country's national radio station about how 3 infants died at the same day from different reasons going to help me "protect myself"?
    I mean, yes, my country is tiny, but children die all the time! It's nothing new, so what makes these 3 infants so special that they're granted mention on national news?!?!?!
    It's like they ran out of stories and to fill the blank they call the hospitals to check who died today like anyone but the family/friends care… It's depressing! –_-'

  52. The proximity effect is weird too. A gruesome event, a plane crash maybe, is far more fascinating if it happened just down the road rather than on the other side of the country or the world.

  53. We all have enough bad news to deal with as it is on a daily basis.
    You see destruction, disaster, carnage and staggering amounts of human stupidity on a daily basis. All you need to do is go outside and open your eyes. Or, failing that, open Facebook. Same thing.

    I know mankind is royally screwed, not helped at all by the orange buffoon and the blonde tit on either side of the pond and their zealots, not to forget the other nuke-loving loony on the far side of the planet in that country whose name rhymes with Morgue Urea. There is no need for newspapers and websites to rub it in any further, thank you very much.

    I enjoy good news while I can. It saves quite a lot of headache.

  54. guys your videos are TOO LOUD !!!
    From all the videos from my playlist, yours always blast through the speakers …
    I dont understand why Youtube doesn't force some kind of equalization on the uploaded videos….

  55. Its basic survival instinct .. we care more about things that effect us and other humans ,, of a tornado happens in the middle of the Pacific ocean and thousands of fishes were killed ,, aaaah poor fishies .. that's it .. so its not about we like bad news ,, we care fotlr bad because we are scared of bad and losing our lives and our intrests ..

  56. Everything made sense until you said that the negative news helps us do something about it. I don’t see a lot of that. At least antidotally, people watch bad news and complain about it, rather than actually doing something.

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