Reporting Scotland’s lie today about the widening scope of organised crime and their failure to report the millions saved by the task-force for bank customers, is an example of a ‘negativity bias’ which has a greater impact than might appear at first sight.

Stewartb explains:

There is extensive academic literature to explain that the human brain has a “negativity bias”. Apparently our brains are built with a greater sensitivity to the unpleasant or the negative. And it seems that this bias is automatic – baked-in due to evolution.

Because our brains react more strongly to stimuli deemed negative, our attitudes are more strongly influenced by downbeat news than good news. The article I’ve linked to notes: “Having the built-in brain apparatus supersensitive to negativity means that the same bad-news bias also is at work in every sphere of our lives at all times.”

It notes that because of this natural bias, achieving balance between positive and negative does not mean a 50-50 share of the different kinds of message or experience. Researchers have actually found that a very specific ratio exists between the amount of positivity and negativity required for balance: that magic ratio is five positives to every one negative.

Other research has found that is the frequency of small positives that matters most. Occasional big positive experiences are nice to have, it is argued, but they don’t make the necessary, sustained impact on our brain to override the natural tilt to negativity. It takes frequent small positive experiences to tip the scales – actually five times more small positives than the opposite on an ongoing basis.

Now for whatever reason, if the mainstream media and/or a public service broadcaster opts to focus on giving out predominantly negative messages – e.g. about NHS Scotland, Scottish education etc. – then it would require them, based on this research, to publish five times more positive stories to ensure balance. But if as you suggest a media outlet may simply opt NOT to publish/broadcast a positive story even where one exists – i.e. operates ‘bias by omission’ – this would clearly compound the ‘negativity bias’ problem.

Any hope of ‘balance’ from such sources becomes a pipe dream.