Positive psychology is a relatively new area of study that is primarily concerned with increasing people’s wellbeing despite the previous notion that the most troubled are the ones in the most need and therefore we should not worry about those who are considered ‘alright’ (Gable and Haidt, 2005). That may be one reason the news looks for cases of people in worse situations, but would society not be better served by increasing the wellbeing of the majority.

People’s QOL (Quality of Life) increases when they watch the news because they believe they are better off than people in the stories. However, people’s QOL decreases because they worry about society sliding downhill (Bernheim & Heylighen, 2000). They believe that “much of the resulting pessimism and despair could be avoided by a more realistic – and therefore positive – portrayal of the global situation” (Bernhein & Heylingher, 372). He goes on to say that people’s despair and pessimism is amplified by media’s needless bias toward bad news.

One reason the authors give for such a bias on negative news is that news is based on something that is different from the current state. Negative developments are usually sudden disturbances such as accidents or natural disasters, while positive developments are a result of the sustained work of many people over time. Breaking news stories tend to be negative and television news is much better at covering breaking news than stories with great context. Stories that take place over months or even years are expensive to cover and often contain too much material for a traditional news piece that one may find on the six o’clock news.

In an article titled Mood Influence on the Appeal of Bad News, Rahul Biswas, Daniel Riffe, and Dolf Zillmann look at how people’s moods are influenced by magazine articles. In short, they found that the participants enjoyed the good news stories more and even found the good news stories to be slightly more interesting. Bad news tended to put people in a worse mood. Men who were put in a negative affective state selected more bad news than did men in a positive affective state.

However, women were the opposite with women in a negative affective state selected less bad news than did women in a positive affective state. However, the most interesting part is that the authors say one can choose to affect their mood by watching news.
An article by Gerald Stone and Elinor Grusin, found that the average amount of positive news on ABC, CBS and NBC was 25.1 per cent. This is not to say that the rest is negative. Almost half, 46.8 per cent was found to be negative. The other 28.1 per cent they called indeterminable. For this reason, I will be using similar ratios for my mock newscasts. The three controlled newscasts will have one out of four packages be positive, two negative and one indeterminable.

In research by Grace Ferrari Levine, it was found that “local newscast of three network-owned New York stations found helplessness a point of focus in 71.4 per cent of the time devoted to news. The authors argue that broadcast news is teaching a form of learned helplessness. Because of this, there will be a short line of questions devoted to helplessness and an attempt to see if more positive news can make people feel less helpless.

Research by Mary-Lou Galician and Norris D. Vestre states that “print journalists rated bad news as more important and more newsworthy than good news” and “news directors, who themselves estimated that they present more bad news than good news on their own typical evening newscast.” This continued to say that “news directors agreed that large amounts of bad news on television depress and desensitize viewers…too much bad news has an undesirable effect on viewers, including making them feel depressed.” Not only do people feel depressed and helpless, but their perception of a community’s benevolence is lowered. What this study does not address is one’s level of optimism. As many of these papers suggest, the ideal solution would be more contextualized news and the introduction of more legitimate, less fluffy good news.

Longer version of the supporting research (pdf)

Full Literature Review (pdf)


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