STUDIES HAVE SHOWN that most television news leaves the viewer depressed and anxious. Just by the nature of the media, with no pernicious or malicious intent on the part of journalists or reporters (or at least it isn't necessary), our impression while we are being informed is that there's nothing we can do about what we are seeing. The problems shown on the screen are too big or too far away or too permanent to do anything about. This sort of news nurtures a pessimistic view of the world.
That's part of the problem. The other part is that our brains have a negative bias which makes the information about danger and violence compelling. Even if you don't want to watch it, your brain's reaction to the images almost compel you against your will.
The combination of these two facts makes television news bad for your morale if the news program says anything about terrorism.
One research team edited news programs into three categories: Negative, neutral, or upbeat. People were randomly assigned to watch one category of news. The ones who watched the negative news became more depressed, more anxious about the world in general, and had a greater tendency to exaggerate the magnitude or importance of their own personal worries.
News is usually presented from a point of view similar to the negative bias of depressives. It is a fact that feelings of helplessness and hopelessness cause health problems. And studies have shown that the greater majority of network news is about people with no control over their tragedy. Christopher Peterson, one of the first researchers to show that pessimism harms health, said,
"What the evening news is telling you is that bad things happen, they hit at random, and there's nothing you can do about it."That is a formula for pessimism, cynicism, and their inevitable result: anxiety and demoralization.
In a study of network news, seventy-one percent of the news stories were about people who had very little control over their fate.
Pessimism produces a feeling of helplessness and leads very directly to depression and anxiety, mild or severe. This is not an opinion; it is a scientific fact. Pessimism makes people less capable of acting effectively, even in their own best interests. It produces apathy, hopelessness, lethargy, depression and anxiety.
Television news has a greater impact on depression and anxiety than news in print because you have no choice over what you take in, and visual images remain in the mind more easily.
Our nation is under attack. We are at war with a group dedicated to our destruction. You watch the news because you want to stay informed. That's understandable. But it is better to get your news from written sources. You're more in control of what you find out. If you watch the news on television, you must take steps to counteract the helpless attitude you are given along with the information.
How? By making sure you immunize yourself against helplessness by improving your explanatory style. We're talking about something different than "trying to be positive." To learn more about the difference, read this. In the meantime, watch television news sparingly.
"...newspaper clamor unnerves and unmans every American and makes him helpless."
| ||William T. Sherman|
writing about the morale of his officers and soldiers at the battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War