By Megan Rawlings
The news makes me anxious. Stories that make it seem the world is ending far outnumber positive articles and reports. Wars, division, disaster—it’s too much to process on a daily basis. And social media only adds to my unease. To deal with this, I changed my phone setting to limit my social media intake to 30 minutes a day. Any longer than that and I find I am crippled by comparison, more bad news, and disappointment. I started to wonder why the news and media (social media included) seem mostly to bend toward evil. It turns out, there’s a science to it.
The Bend Toward Negative Bias
Apparently, human brains tend to have a negative bias. “Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news,” Psychology Today reported in a 2003 article. “The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.”
I am not a psychologist, but I would argue that this report was wrong with regard to the way the brain was “built.” Our brain was not designed to bask in negativity and evil; that is a product of the fall. Our sin has corrupted our hearts, and that has been the downfall of mankind since the fall in the Garden of Eden.
In a study conducted by neuroscientist Dr. John Cacioppo, a series of positive, negative, and neutral photos were shown to individuals. As he monitored brain activity, Cacioppo found a much stronger reaction—there was a greater surge of electrical activity—whenever people saw photos that were deemed negative.
The Habit of Sin
The National Science Foundation reports that 80 percent of our thoughts are negative and 95 percent are repetitive. We replay negative thoughts at a fascinatingly high rate. The article suggests that this takes place because we are mentally trying to change the outcome. Additionally, it says, “The mind will always choose thinking about pain over experiencing it directly.”
In summary, our brains are more sensitive to unpleasant news, have a stronger reaction to negative imagery, and repeatedly revisit negative thoughts. This must be why the news and other media outlets highlight and focus on negative stories and make short references to positive ones.
So, why does this matter?
If we are constantly bombarded with negative stories and negative concepts, according to the statistics, we will spiral down with repetitive thoughts that trigger and illicit strong responses. It’s a repetitious cycle.
Is the World Going to Hell in a Handbasket?
I have heard well-meaning Christians say, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket,” more times than I can remember. And in many ways, it feels that way. But I would be remiss if I did not remind you, brothers and sisters, of these truths:
1. None of this new. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
2. God is not surprised by this. In fact, he warned us it would happen. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
3. There is hope. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God designed our minds, so he knows how they work. He also knows the toll sin takes on his creation and in our inner being. That is why nearly 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).
God commanded us to focus on and cling to the things that are good because all that is good points us back to God, the only one who can demonstrate it perfectly. This is why I encourage everyone to memorize as much Scripture as possible. When we repeat God’s words to ourselves, we correctly fight the battle at hand with the weapon he gave us, the sword of the spirit which is the Word of the Lord. There is hope, and his name is Jesus.