Why negative headlines work better


Whether we like it or not, most of us remember bad things (an unpleasant conversation, our own bloopers, a traumatic experience) better and keep it in our memory longer. In addition, we:

  • we pay more attention to criticism than to praise or neutral statements addressed to us;
  • we react more sharply to negative stimuli;
  • more willing to read bad news and comments to it;
  • we react more actively when something bad happens;
  • we remember the offense inflicted on us more vividly than gratitude or praise.

This cognitive bias formed millions of years ago and helped us survive in the first place. Now the probability of encountering a wild beast is zero, but we are still on the alert.

More bad news, more clicks

Of course, we all would like to learn about something good every day – especially now, when everything is so unstable and fragile. View pictures of puppies and children, admire the shots of the most beautiful corners of the world. But our brains are hardwired to hunt for bad news, and the media actively exploits this to drive traffic. That is why the overwhelming majority of notes and articles they publish are about something bad, unpleasant, sad, scary and shocking.

From time to time, attempts are made to create a media that would tell exclusively about something good, but, as a rule, no one reads such media. One news portal published only good news for one day and lost two-thirds of its audience!

Andrew B. Newberg and Mark R. Waldman, authors of Words That Can Change Your Mind, believe that positive and negative words affect our brains in different ways. The words “love” and “peace”, for example, stimulate the areas of the brain responsible for motivation, while negative words increase the level of the stress hormone.

Pure curiosity

Most of us tend to analyze information and make judgments. And since the brain, as already mentioned, out of habit provides us with bad news, they find in us the most lively response. We’re curious to know what’s going on. We love to draw conclusions about others. We are curious to understand why a person did this and not otherwise. All this gives our brains food for thought.

Take the same Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones – what drove her? Is it because she lost her children? Did she really love anyone other than herself? We love heroes, but villains attract us with their unpredictability. And yes, negative headlines work better – marketers and news outlets know this for sure. The audience needs to be hooked, touched to the quick. But what should we, the readers, do with all the information? Remember this and do not fall for this bait. And do not let unnecessary negativity into your life.

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