Why I StoppedWatching the News
How our brains respond to information.
We’ve all heard the journalist saying, “if it bleeds, it leads” referring to the tendency for a bad news story to do far better than one with good news. This makes people out to be very pessimistic. It turns out, we are for a biological reason. Survival.
As information comes into your brain, it’s first filtered through your amygdala, a small section of the temporal lobe. The amygdala has one job, to find information that might threaten your survival. Should it find something, your primal defenses will shift on to anger, hate, and fear. It’s fight or flight until the threat has been relieved. Until then, other areas of your brain are harder to access, such as the prefrontal cortex which stimulates compassion and empathy.
Once, I was told that it’s important to watch the news and follow politics in order to feel the anger and frustration; that feeling such things is what will motivate people to get out and drive change. I just can’t help but believe that the complete opposite is true. Anger leads to irrational behavior; doing or saying regretful things, but mostly it leads to the spread of such anger and ultimately hate. Embracing such an emotion may be enough to inspire action, but it does little to inspire hope. When we surround ourselves with such negative information, we lock ourselves into perpetual pessimism.
I believe most people desire to feel compassion over hate and peace over fear. We believe those to be a more appropriate message yet we cannot exercise compassion and hate simultaneously.
“The desire to better the world is predicated partially on empathy and compassion. The good news is that we now know that these prosocial behaviors are hardwired into the brain. The bad news is that these behaviors are wired into the slower-moving recently evolved prefrontal cortex.” - Peter Diamandis, Abundance
I’m not promoting the idea that ignorance is bliss. There are enough things in our world to trigger fear, I simply try to limit myself to things that I have direct control over. When we’re shown a threat in which there is no path to fixing, we create an anxiety. An anxiety that won’t leave. This illusion of a lack of control can lead to depression.
So how do I keep up with events in the world if I don’t watch the news? Obviously, I don’t completely shut myself off. I use social networks to follow causes that I care about, volunteer bases that let me know if they need assistance. To know about events in my local area, I follow the city on facebook. I only see what’s relevant and still keep in the know about things that are important. What I’m not getting: the pundits. Those whose best interest is to stimulate my primal instincts and make me angry. Why? So that I will keep watching. Today’s threats are never gone. The primal instincts of the amygdala won’t turn off until the stimulus is gone.
What about politics? Sure, the issues in politics are important, unfortunately much of the conversation tends towards anger. I believe the best way to promote social change and political change is to live by the values you believe in and kindly encourage it in others. The best defense is a good offense. Leading by example is more powerful than winning the argument.
If you regularly watch the news, give yourself a break and see how you feel. Subscribe to blogs that focus on only good news or choose a cause that you care about and find out how to get actively involved. Actively helping will nurture the compassionate part of the brain. It will also give some relief to the initial threat and help the negative emotions die down.
See the good by changing the stimulus.
- Information stimulates different parts of the brain, are you stimulating fear more than love?
- We’ve evolved to have empathy, but our primal instincts still come in first.