Like rubbernecking at a grisly highway accident, people find it hard to resist reading horrifying news stories. Media coverage of murder, child abuse, natural disasters, and the like surrounds us on a daily basis. We lament that there is no good news in the world, but the real truth is that there is, yet nobody wants to read it.
You’ve likely heard that bad news sells, or the journalism adage, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Yet the mainstream media is not solely to blame for creating this negative atmosphere — we are. Like it or not, the more heinous the crime, more disturbing the accusation, or more dreadful the imagery, we crave it, we click it, and we share it.
We might think we’re sick of hearing about the dire state of the world, but we’re the ones feeding the machine. Here are six reasons we click on horrifying news stories – even if we think we don’t want to.
It’s evolutionarily necessary
Our brains are hardwired to identify threats. Negative headlines trigger alarm bells in our amygdala, the brain’s warning system, and our survival instinct kicks in. For instance, we feel as if we need to know the gory details of a murder in an effort to prevent it from happening to us or our families. We need to know if we need to change something in our lives to help prevent lurking, imminent danger.
Whether the threat is real and actually happening to you or hypothetical and just something you’re reading online doesn’t matter much; your brain’s tripwire has already sparked your interest.
Evolutionarily speaking, we have more to lose from neglecting threats than we have to gain from basking in goodness. That’s why the research says that the public actually demands bad news.