Take off your negativity bias goggles when reading the news

Published 4:35 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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Have you ever heard of ‘negativity bias’? It’s a specific way our minds work so that we tend to focus on and give more weight to negative events than positive ones.

Think about, for example, going to your favorite restaurant. You’ve been happy and satisfied with their food for a long time. But one day, your experience at the restaurant is really bad. Perhaps it’s suddenly awful food or suddenly awful service. And after that negative experience you vow you’ll never go back to that restaurant again.

One bad experience negated all the hundreds of good experiences from the past. You think to yourself, if that’s the kind of thing that’s going to happen again, I better go elsewhere, right? Negativity bias erased all your previous positive experiences so that you only focused on how awful the one bad thing was.

(Of course, time tends to heal all wounds. And even if negativity bias drives you away from your favorite restaurant for a while, most people do tend to want to give them a second chance again later.)

Another example that might also be relatable: imagine you’ve baked a cake to share with a group of people. One person, however, says that they didn’t like the flavor. Suddenly, you’re feeling disappointed in and worried about your baking skills even though the rest of the group loved the cake and ate it up quickly.

Not everyone has this reaction, but it’s still pretty common for people to take criticism to heart more readily than compliments. Especially if you’re not aware of this mind phenomenon.

Negativity bias simply means that negative things are often more memorable than positive ones. Consider, for example, the common refrain that I regularly hear about the news media is that we only report on “bad news.”

I can understand why that might be the knee-jerk reaction because, like I just noted, bad things tend to stick in our heads more easily than good ones. Think about national news stories you might have paid attention to in the last year. School shootings across the country might come to mind. Perhaps the recent train derailment and its environmental disaster in Ohio. Maybe you remember the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi from a few months ago.

But how many “good news” stories can you name?

You might not be able to come up with many examples, but that doesn’t mean those stories don’t exist!

Our newspapers (the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index) have always reported on local crimes, including murders and drive-by shootings. Our job here is to provide you all with factual reporting on things that happen, even if we wish those tragic crimes were not committed at all.

We’re here to document what happens in our community and spread the word about it. That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. So even though crime stories appear on our front pages, they’re not the only stories occupying that space.

For example, a few “good news” stories I’ve written about in the past year include the expansion of Chowan University’s student food pantry (Feb. 2023), Hertford County High School’s sock donation drive to benefit senior citizens (Dec. 2022), Ed Porter Sr. of Gaston Fire-Rescue-EMS getting recognized for 70 years of service (Nov. 2022), the reopening of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Murfreesboro (Sept. 2022), the large increase in visitor spending in Gates County (Aug. 2022), Bertie County Commissioner Ron Wesson receiving a Governor’s Medallion Award for volunteer service (July 2022), Lasker renaming a street after former resident Agnes Lassiter (Apr. 2022), and many, many more stories.

These are just a few examples of my own work. My editor, Cal Bryant, has also written countless good news stories in his career as well. If you’re curious about reading more, please feel free to check them out on our website.

Even though negativity bias can sometimes make it seem like only bad things are happening in our rural corner of the world, the reality is that good things are happening as well. And, of course, there are plenty of stories which do not fall into either category. The NCDOT’s proposal to add a roundabout in Ahoskie, for example, is something that some people might hate while others might think is a good idea. We’re not here to tell you how you should feel about it, but to simply give you as much information about it as we can.

It’s worth noting as well that our newspapers are more than simply the front page. If you browse through the whole thing, you’ll see things like the Community Calendar and the Church and Faith sections which give people a head’s up for upcoming events. You’ll see school news, sports news, business news, state news, and more within these pages. You’ll see creatively designed ads for local businesses that you might want to consider visiting the next time you’re out and about. (Thanks to our local advertising staff, Judy Farmer and Anna Phipps, for their hard work!)

Cal and I can’t be everywhere, but we try our best to cover as much as possible. And we appreciate submissions when we can’t attend events too.

We also work hard on magazines and special sections throughout the year. Those often feature profiles on interesting people and places in our local area. I doubt you’ll see these kinds of local stories featured as often in bigger magazines like Our State!

I hope you’ll continue to take the time to keep reading the news – the good and the bad – in our four county coverage area. Sometimes, people might not think they care that much about what’s happening in a different county than the one they live in, but I think it’s important to know what challenges and triumphs our neighbors face too. It’s helpful to share ideas and knowledge, especially if we’re all facing the same hardships.

Personally, I have been reading the newspaper (this very one, and others) since I was a teenager. I used to spread the paper out on the living room floor and pour over the headlines, look at the photos, and yes, even read the opinion columns (usually just the humorous ones, I admit).

Who knew that years later I’d be writing for the newspaper myself!

So, please, don’t let negativity bias warp your perception of the news. Some stories are indeed very tragic, but others are uplifting and positive. It’s important that we share all of it.

Thanks for reading!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.