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The Power of Bad

We all know that the media, on both sides of the political spectrum, spreads negative news. But why?

The podcast attached (I recommended Freakanomics last week) features a Dartmouth professor who studies excessive media consumption and how negativity stimulates the human brain.

A researcher states, “Humans have a built-in negativity bias.” The English language features more specific words for negativity, as well as morality, than for positivity. These divide people and their perception of others into good and evil. Our media taps into “the power of bad.”

The newspaper principle “If it bleeds, it leads” has jumped off the charts. Our television and social media outlets capitalize on this very successfully. Newspapers, whose market share has dropped dramatically, are guilty too, but with less impact because a reading consumer is not hearing a powerful voice and the intense, alarming music introducing it. Research shows that US media is more negative than it is in other countries where there is less of a profit motive.

What does this have to do with college admissions? Since we are attracted to negativity, rather than focusing on great student outcomes, we are drawn to stories about the low acceptance rates at elite colleges and salacious stories like Varsity Blues. Are we really surprised that there is corruption in college admissions, or is just fun to see celebrities punished for their elitism? Nearly every college website features promising research projects, award winners, and growth. Can we skip opening an Ivy website and click on a top-ranked public research university instead?

All of this has given me some personal insight. While there is more bad college news out there I could post, I try to share positive news and alternate options to unlikely colleges. Finally-I have an answer to my lackluster social media insights! While being irate might earn me more clicks, I accept my algorithmic limits.


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