Attracted by negativity


Attracted by negativity

Don’t make yourself feel bad. How and why we make ourselves feel bad and why we should stop. There are several types of destructive behavior in the information environment:

- doomscroling (we continue to scroll through the feed despite the toxicity of the news and the deterioration of our well-being),

— hate-watching (we watch what infuriates us, irritates us, causes anger and condemnation, and increases our sense of superiority),

  • hate following (we follow people who annoy and anger us). All these behaviors have one thing in common — we harm ourselves and focus on the harmful and destructive; we continue to do this and experience cravings, despite the consequences.

In the information field, the winner is the one who gets more coverage. Therefore, news feeds and shows can consist almost entirely of hatred, criticism, and evil. Nothing personal, it’s effective for increasing views. So, studies show that each percentage of reaction to the show “hate” increases the probability of watching the next episode by 0.7%, and each percentage of “love” — by only 0.3%. News with hate and blackness is reposted faster, so algorithms give them preference in the feed. This is how a bubble of negativity arises, drying up your psyche.

How does it work? The first mechanism is negative bias. To our brain, information about dangers, deaths, and catastrophes seems more critical for survival than positive information. It seems to the brain that the more he looks at trash, the more he will be ready for it. It attracts more attention, and causes a more significant dopamine release — that’s why many people like to watch nightmares and murders. We tend not to keep the threat’s source out of sight and constantly monitor it. Ask yourself, does this affect the specific decisions you make? If not, then this negative is not needed (although attractive). This also adds a tendency to novelty — you need more different bad news.

The second mechanism is intermittent reinforcement. We get hooked on the tape like a gambler on a slot machine. The random good news in a stream of bad news causes a rise in dopamine, like a random gambling win. And we want to repeat, scrolling and scrolling again, hoping that I’m about to get lucky, I’m about to get my dose. We are just losing our lives and health.

The third mechanism is one’s superiority. A cheap and harmful way to raise your dopamine is to assert yourself at the expense of someone, to feel better judging and angry. When you watch or follow the “stupid and ignorant”, criticize them, condemn them, get angry, then, sorry, you are the stupid one here. Do you feel a surge of dopamine excitement and strength after you are “inflamed with righteous anger” or “disapprovingly watched a stupid show with a dumbass”?

The fourth mechanism is a status error. We (and other primates) often confuse primitiveness with social rank. Primativeness is “animal” behavior — disinhibition, aggressiveness, deviant behavior, profanity, risky behavior, violation of rules — but because of the peculiarities of our biology, it seems to many to be an indicator of status (knowledge, power, influence). Therefore, the bad guys seem to be high-status (but they are not), and we tend to follow and, much worse, imitate them. The deficit of communication and social isolation reinforce this tendency.

Why is it dangerous?

Besides the fact that you are wasting hours of your life like a gambler squanders money by pulling the handle of a vending machine, all this harms your physical and mental health: there is a paralyzing feeling that everything around is terrible, increases the risk of depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, phobias, self-control decreases, you sit more, overeat and drink more often, chronic pain increases, sleep worsens, neck problems occur, concentration decreases, personality traits are deformed (increased neuroticism, etc.). In general, nothing good.

What to do?

Recognize that you are trapped in dependent, addictive behavior and realize it. Soberly assess the impact on your life — from time spent to direct harm to health, to understand that there are healthier and more productive ways to manage your emotions, to understand that this behavior harms, harms the mind, soul and body. Since such behavior often becomes compulsive and eludes self–control, you will have to act not only with self-control, but also change the environment — set timers, ask your loved ones to help, learn the “stop” method — immediately stop the behavior as soon as you realize that you are back in it, set limits. Ask yourself: what am I looking for in this? Consolation? Awareness of rightness or confirmation of fears? What will I learn? Is it essential or can it wait? And information fasting (intermittent information fast periodic fasting) is also an excellent story for the brain.

Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being Health Communication 23 Aug 2022

Social Connectedness, Excessive Screen Time During COVID-19 and Mental Health: A Review of Current Evidence Front. Hum. Dyn., 22 July 2021 Sec. Social Networks Volume 3–2021

Doomsurfing and doomscrolling mediate psychological distress in COVID‐19 lockdown: Implications for awareness of cognitive biases Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2022 Jan; 58(1): 170–172.

Doomscrolling Scale: its Association with Personality Traits, Psychological Distress, Social Media Use, and Wellbeing Applied Research in Quality of Life (2022

The Dark at the End of the Tunnel: Doomscrolling on Social Media Newsfeeds Technology, Mind, and Behavior Volume 3, Issue 1: Spring 2022.

The Road to Moral Superiority Was Paved with Hate-Watching A Qualitative Examination of Why People Watch Things They Hate Conference: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Midwinter Conference