Do you want the good or the bad news first?

“It’s a quiet news week, I wonder why that is?” asked a colleague yesterday. “Everyone is on holiday and parliament is in recess, so there’s not a lot to report on” I shrugged. “In that case, isn’t this a good opportunity to cover some more positive stories in the news?”

She had a very valid point.

Granted, Ebola and Gaza are incredibly important and I am not suggesting for a second that they should not dominate the headlines. But as previous Highland Marketing blogs have questioned, what would be the impact of having an equal balance of good and bad news or even a newspaper that only covered positive news stories?

Health benefits – Firstly, it is likely that you would feel less stressed. News constantly triggers the limbic system. In fact, dramatic stories fuel the release of glucocorticoid, which impacts the immune system and reduces the release of growth hormones, which can lead to chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels are also associated with poor digestion, lack of cell, hair and bone growth, nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side effects include desensitisation, fear and even aggression.

Last year a team of researchers in the US questioned more than 4,500 people about their reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing. The study found that “people who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily actually reported more acute stress symptoms than did people who were directly exposed.”

Increase in productivity – There is also a good chance that by consuming more good news or even no news at all, you will be more productive and have a greater concentration span. In the age of 24/7 news, apps, and social media, news stories are specifically engineered to be negative and in turn constantly interrupt our thinking. Because news disrupts concentration, it can then lessen understanding. Studies have revealed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. This is because your brain has to make the choice whether or not to click, which in itself is distracting.

Greater satisfaction and control – Finally, there’s a strong likelihood that you will feel more in control of your life and the decisions that you make. This is because negative news stories are overwhelmingly and increasingly about things you cannot influence. Wars, natural disasters, plane crashes are just a few of the things that we have little choice but to respond passively to. This can grind us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic and a personal view that we are helpless.

So why do we thrive on bad news?

Experts say that our desire to consume bad news stems from our hunter-gatherer nature, where anything novel or dramatic has to be addressed immediately for our survival. The amygdala, that is our danger detector, provides us with an early warning system that puts us on high alert for negative stories and therefore it literally draws our attention to all things negative, whether we like it or not.

Others note that we have a negativity bias, which is the cognitive tendency to give far more concentration to negative details than positive ones. Many studies have shown, that we care more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things.

And of course, news anchors and editors play on this natural vulnerability, highlighting the negative news in order to distract us and grab our attention. In many cases this strategy is becoming increasingly aggressive in order to compete with the huge range of easily accessible news outlets and channels.

So this weekend, if you’re feeling particularly jaded and stressed, when you do skim the paper or download your news online, try skipping to the more positive stories, that is if you can find any, or perhaps just this week, give the news a rest altogether for your own wellbeing.

What do health tech leaders want from the general election campaign?
Secrets from the algorithm: insights from Google’s Search Content Warehouse API leak
What will the general election mean for the NHS and health tech?
Back to (business school) basics
NHS finances: cuts get real