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Posts Tagged ‘media ethics


The Psychology of Defeating Fear: Low Self-Esteem and Hate Live in the Mind

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.

No correlation between facts of lower crime rates and our feeling of increased fear?

August 18, 2016

Fear has always had a hold on us, but never with such fervor. Welcome to the end of times.

We cannot sink lower. ISIS is at our door, our elected leaders are malevolent man-children, amber alerts are lighting up our phones, immigrants are bringing a plague of violence, someone was murdered while playing Pokemon GO, climate change is flooding our homes and starving our crops. How can we go on?

But, breathe deep and let the clouds of panic part; it turns out there’s very little correlation between the above mindset and reality.

Terrorism, despite it reported epidemic, is less prevalent in the Western world now than it was in the 1970s and ’80s. Crime is decreasing.

Immigrants actually lower crime in gateway cities, and don’t affect crime rates elsewhere.

Rates of rape and sexual assault have been declining for decades, and are now a quarter or less of their peaks in the past.

Despite Zika and Ebola hype, infectious diseases are down. The list continues and is wonderfully documented at length in Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

However, that’s not what we like to hear, because we don’t feel safe. This good news feels inaccurate. Why?

we have the non-stop news cycle to thank for that, and social platforms that turn every smartphone user into an independent correspondent capturing every horror from the grocery aisle to the protest march.

We are experiencing an oversaturation of fearful messages.

“What is really fascinating when we look at the brain research around fear is that our brains proxy anything that feels unfamiliar, incoherent or inaccessible as being unsafe,” says Harvard psychologist Susan David, author of Emotional Agility.

We like familiarity. We like it so much that hearing that terrorism is likely to strike us personally at any moment is somehow more comforting than the message that it’s not, because the fear is more familiar to us at this stage.

We’ve come to trust it. If we hear something often enough, we associate familiarity with truth.

It even works on a personal level, where people are drawn to those who hurt them and belittle them purely because the message is familiar. It feels cozy and you’ve been there before. You know how this works. It’s scarier to try something new.

And of course fear is heavily embedded in politics.

We have politicians who are effectively demagogues, who aim to inspire fear and cement our bond to them by hyperbolizing a threat to our mortality.

So how can we repel deceptive messaging and see clearly?

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman identified two kinds of thinking systems:

“System 1 thinking is the intuitive response, the emotional visceral ‘us’ and ‘them’ that can sometimes arise out of fear. System 2 is the deliberate thoughtful examination of: what is this person saying? Is it in line with how I really want to be? Is it connected with how I really want to raise my children? Is this a world that I want to support?’

David says that if we can step back from our fear and see it for what it is – manipulated panic rather than data – we can protect ourselves from the demagoguery message and re-align with our true values.

It is difficult to do, and the repetition makes it harder to see straight.

Here David draws on the 2016 US election as an example. “… We used to hear things that the politicians would say and we would be like, ‘Oh my goodness how can the person possibly say that thing?’

But what happens over time is the more familiar something sounds… even if the story is inaccurate, even if the story doesn’t serve us, the more we are likely to become immured to it and immune to it.”

Things that were said in the election six months ago that horrified people are now being met with a light-hearted ‘Oh, there we go again’.

David questions the media ethics in pushing out stories that overexpose inaccurate messages of fear that could incite violence and hatred. It familiarizes us to an incorrect message, leaving our values open to corruption.

Susan David’s most recent book is Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.




May 2023

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