A brief article on the research has been published in the Conversation see http://theconversation.com/shock-horror-behind-the-ethics-and-evolution-of-the-bad-news-business-39211
Listen to Dr Baden on BBC Radio 4 'Good News is No News':
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Sample: 2044 respondents, mixed gender, age, nationality, and occupation.
Method: Online survey: quantitative. Respondents completed a mood measure which measures positive and negative affect. They were asked about their views on news in general and then read a classic US news story. Their mood was measured again afterwards.
Results: the strongest finding was that positive mood dropped significantly and negative mood increased significantly after reading the news excerpt. Effects were particularly marked in female respondents (38% increase in negative mood compared to 20% increase in male respondents).
Study 2 (DB)
Sample: 205 respondents, mixed gender, age, nationality, and occupation.
Method: Online survey: quantitative. Respondents exposed to positive and negative versions of similar news stories, e.g. negative condition: news extract on war in Syria, news extract on destruction of coral reefs; positive condition: news extract on peace talks with Iran, news extract on oceans becoming cleaner. Order counterbalanced: half did positive then negative, and half negative/positive. After each condition respondents described their feelings in their own words, and then on a Likert scale rated how calm/anxious, happy/sad, optimistic/pessimistic they felt. Respondents then rated their behavioral motivations to a) donate to charity (1 much more motivated – 7 much less motivated), b) be environmentally friendly, c) make opinions known, d) generally to take action to make the world a better place. They also specified which kinds of news – positive or negative – they prefer and which catches their attention and why.
Results: As in Study 1, negative news decreased mood and positive news stories increased positive affect. But the most interesting finding was that positive news stories gave rise to significantly higher motivation to take positive actions (donate to charity, be environmentally friendly, make opinions known etc.) than negative news stories. Another pertinent finding was that in the positive condition there was a significant and strong positive correlation between how positive their mood was and how motivated they were to take positive action. Conversely, in the negative condition there was an inverse correlation, and the more anxious/pessimistic/sad the stories made them feel, the less motivated they were to take action. Finally there was an overwhelming stated preference for positive news stories over negative news stories, although most respondents said negative stories were slightly more likely to grab their attention.
Study 3 (DB)
Sample: 15 high quality interviewees from key players in the news industry: news editor from BBC Radio 4 news, head of BBC online news, news editor from regional BBC, one journalist from regional BBC), news editor of Reuters, 2 Reuters journalists, news editor from Positive News, 4 freelance journalists, journalist from Al Jazeera, news editor from Sky News.
Method: news editors and journalists whose job it is to decide what is in the news were interviewed on the subject of what is newsworthy, ethical issues in the news, and issues related to the negative bias in the news.
Results: although all interviewees thought that they and their colleagues had high professional integrity and held the ethical codes of journalism relating to objectivity, freedom from bias etc. close to their hearts, there was little to no awareness of the negative bias in the news and its potential consequences. It was clear in the interviews that information was routinely selected to give an unbalanced picture of the world. For example several examples that came up in the interviews showed how news is selected to make it appear that hospitals are performing worse than they are, that crime is worse than it is etc. It was also clear that even the journalists themselves often found the gruesome content of war images distressing but still thought it their duty to portray them as uncensored as possible to the public. Justifications were related to duty to hold those in power to account, to inform so that public can take action, and that negative news sells, and public are free not to consume it if they don’t want to. The news editor from positive news and some of the freelance journalists believed that the adversarial relationship between the media and politicians hindered good democracy, negative bias in the news created feelings of disengagement and powerlessness and that backlash against positive news as being fluffy or propaganda had gone too far in the other direction.
These results can be discussed in light of research that shows that we are biologically adapted to pay attention to alarming information, so freedom of choice to switch off negative news is compromised, and in light of research showing stated preferences for positive news, and mental health effects relating to consumption of negative news.