“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.” – Daniel Kahneman
This week's theme: understanding bias
This week, as news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominates the headlines, many of us are feeling anxiety and stress. In times of uncertainty, these feelings are bound to arise. But are these feelings due, at least in part, to negativity bias?
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky began to study bias (heuristics) in the 1970s. In their work, which Kahneman describes in detail in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, they found that human brains are susceptible to many types of bias. Negativity bias refers to our human tendency to pay more attention to perceived threats. For example, Kahneman and Tversky found that negatively valenced words, such as war or crime, attract attention faster than happy words, such as peace or love.
💡Negativity bias makes frightening information more salient and causes us to dwell on negative events for long periods of time.
It can be a struggle to stay balanced or feel hopeful when we are inundated with stressful headlines and frightening images. Even when information itself is balanced, our brains give more weight to the negative. News media is available to us 24 hours a day, which provides plenty of fodder for negativity bias. Social media algorithms, meanwhile, make it more likely that we will be shown new information consistent with what we have previously clicked. Where does this leave us? Feeling overwhelmed and stressed, at times without alternate perspectives that could offer solutions or hope.
We’re usually not aware of our biases or how they affect us. In the case of negativity bias, signs that you’re impacted might be thoughts such as “The world is completely dangerous,” or “Authority figures can’t be trusted.” Such thoughts connect us to emotions like fear, helplessness or anger. In reaction, we may be tempted to ignore news entirely or to engage with it so much that we live in a state of constant tension. Luckily, with awareness comes choice. We can handle bias in healthy ways that allow us to stay informed and grounded.
Bringing mindful awareness to our news diet can help balance the scales. You have the power to pace your news consumption. You have the option to participate in social media networks with an intention to search for diverse, hopeful and uplifting content. While it helps tremendously to be aware of the biases you experience, you are not defined by them.
What is helping you to stay grounded in these times of uncertainty? The MO team encourages you to set the boundaries you need to be informed in a way that sustains you.
Dr. Christen Mullane, Ph.D.
Exercise 1: Awareness
What qualifies as “news” to you? How frequently are you engaging with the news? What types of news stories are you engaging with, and where do you typically get your news? What emotions do you notice as you listen to, watch or read news stories? What automatic thoughts jump into your mind as you read?
Exercise 2: Practice
This week, try selecting two news articles to read per day. Read them from start to finish. Keep the “dose” at two articles per day — no more, no less. Each day as you read, notice your process.
Exercise 3: Reflection
How did you choose which articles to read? What thoughts and emotions come to mind? What questions do the articles leave you with? What urges do you notice — e.g. urges to disengage, to critique, to share or to read more articles? What helps you to move on with your day after reading the news? What is it like for you to set this limit?
These exercises may be challenging! Consider what it means to move through them mindfully, without commitment. You might be surprised by what you learn!Share on facebook Share Share on twitter Tweet Share on reddit Reddit Share on email Forward
What are we reading? Glad you asked! This week’s MO recommendation is:
Thinking Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
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