Leanna Stockard, MA, LMFT

How often do you watch or read the news? After your exposure, do you find yourself feeling empowered and informed, or do you find yourself feeling negative and pessimistic? As a therapist, I have worked with clients who have been impacted by their news exposure, and feeling pessimistic about the current state of the world.  Additionally, I, myself, have found myself feeling down or pessimistic after hearing about a recent bad event in my neighborhood. With the frequency of these experiences, I started to wonder, why does this happen? 

I recently read an article in Psychology Today that answers that very question. In How Negative News Distorts Our Thinking,” Austin Perlmutter M.D. shared, “exposure to consistent, sensationalized pessimism and negativity has become the norm for those keeping up with the news.” In this article, Perlmutter explores our different cognitive biases that help us focus on the negative after we hear negative news, and how that impacts our mental health. 

Negative Bias

Perlmutter shares that as humans, we engage in a cycle of negativity. We are not only seeking out negative news frequently, but the media is consistently providing us with negative material. If we are getting our negative wants and needs met, it is challenging to turn off the negative news.  Hence, we continue to focus on it. 

Availability Bias

Perlmutter shares that we cognitively experience an availability bias when we see negative news, and we “overestimate it’s significance.” That means, we use the examples that the negative news is providing to us, assume they are common problems, and create a narrative that this is the general state that things are in. 

Confirmation Bias

Perlmutter also discussed how we would tend to look for negative news that confirms what we already believe, in order to support our negativity. When we negatively impacted by the news, are experiencing this cognitive belief that this is the state that things are in, we will selectively search for information that supports our theory, and ignore any evidence against our belief. 

Putting It Together

After identifying the three cognitive biases we experience with negative news, Perlmutter shares how all of these cognitive biases work together. He discusses how, when we are faced with negative news, we then look for more negative content. Following that, we look for negative news, we over-generalize its commonality in our brain, and then we look for external sources that confirm our thoughts are true, and ignore news that states the opposite.

Break the Cycle

While there may be negative media around us, it is possible to reduce the effect it has on us. Perlmutter suggests first attempting to break the cycle at the source by limiting your media consumption. If you find that is not possible, check-in with yourself at the end of reading or hearing the news and ask yourself if you are experiencing any negative feelings, or are generalizing the news that you just heard. Attempt to give yourself a more balanced perspective, and question your beliefs frequently to determine how they are formed.

While this article focused mainly on negative news, I could not help but wondering how this applies to different parts of our lives as well. If we are faced with something negative in our life, we have the capacity to generalize how negative things are, and then search for the things that confirm that theory. This is a cycle that we need to challenge. 

If you are struggling with challenging the impact of the negativity in your life, it may be helpful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to get in contact with one of our talented clinicians!