Peter Diamandis, futurist and technology expert, writes in his book Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think about how technology is saving the world, creating abundance, reducing poverty and extending lives. In a recent presentation, Peter said that Bill Clinton once questioned him, asking “Why do you have such a positive outlook? Don’t you watch the news?” Peter has explained this notion, and in a Big Think article titled “Why We Love Bad News: Understanding Negativity Bias” he unravels the physical and psychological reasons we are enamored with negative news.
To show why, perhaps, there is a disproportionate amount of news surrounding negative events rather than positive ones in addition to our propensity to focus on those negative headlines, Peter points to our amygdala. Located in the temporal lobe, our amygdala, he explains, is our “danger detector”. Throughout human history, being on high alert and being able to quickly sense out and focus on danger, was an evolutionary physical advantage to say, hear a leaf rustle and think “tiger”, and 1% of the time assuming the worst might have actually saved your life. Today, this same system being driven by our amygdala is what literally calls our attention to negative stories, and keeps us on this sense of “high alert” and wanting to be aware of all possible threats.
This need to be on high alert, Peter claims, is why 90% of the news in the newspaper and on television is negative because that’s what we pay attention to. However, in today’s society, this need to be on high alert to be able to quickly run in the event of, say, a tiger, is no longer relevant as most threats promoted by the media are simply probabilistic dangers, a pandemic might strike, an asteroid might hit, and we end up in a situation that our amygdala is always on high alert and it’s screening out the positive news and allowing in the negative news.
Being aware of our propensity to seek out negative news, and screen out the positive is important. We must not let a perceived sense of danger or pessimism stifle our abilities to take risks, innovate, stay optimistic, and work towards constant positive change.
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