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Why We Thrive on Negativity in a World of Abundance

"If It Bleeds It Leads.”

This is actually an old saying used by the news industry. Why is the news fixated on delivering negative stories to us? In a fascinating 2012 Ted talk by Peter Diamandis, he discusses why we seem to have an affinity for negativity.  It seems that this is a part of our human nature and that is what our minds pay attention to.

This is probably rooted in our primal survival instinct that comes from deep in our brains in an area called the limbic system.  This region is the most primal part of our brains and is also known as the paleomammalian brain. It is essentially responsible for processing emotions and memory. In particular, one part of the limbic system called the amygdala is responsible for what we would call our survival instincts. Basically, it filters out information and detects anything in our environment that may harm us. This is why we preferentially pay attention to things that may have some sort of impact on our survival, such as all of that negative news.

This is obviously good for the media industry since there seems to be an abundance of negative news in the world. Add to this that we have it coming at us at all times from all directions (electronic devices) and we are now drowning in negative information. This creates the perception that the world is getting worse.  However, as Peter Diamandis points out, over the last century while there are some terrible catastrophic events, things are actually not getting worse. For example, things like the average human life span has more than doubled, childhood mortality has dropped by a factor of 10 times, per capita income has increased by a factor of 3 times. The costs of food, electricity, transportation, and communication have all dropped dramatically. This list goes on and on.

Diamandis points out that these advances can be attributed to the exponential growth of technology. For instance, our common cell phone is 100x cheaper and 1000x faster than the super-computers of the 1970’s. At this rate of technological growth, we will see innovations that will result in a continuing improvement in our health and should lead to a better world with a better standard of living overall.

This may seem a bit off-topic but part of being healthy is about how we perceive our world, and if we can see through the negativity we will notice that we have a lot more to be positive about.


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