I recently read a New York Times article titled, Bad News Bias, (published Wednesday, March 24, 2021) citing a recent study showing that press coverage of COVID-19 was overwhelmingly negative in the US, compared to other countries. The article’s author, David Leonhardt wrote, “When Covid cases were rising in the U.S., the news coverage emphasized the increase. When cases were falling, the coverage instead focused on those places where cases were rising. And when vaccine research began showing positive results, the coverage downplayed it.” He further stated that the research seems to suggest that readers prefer articles with negative content, and that reporters are simply responding to consumer demand. So why do we seem to prefer negative news over positive news, and if the “bad news bias” is true of COVID might it be true of all news?
Evidence coming from the field of interpersonal neurobiology through the work of Stephen Porges, Dan Siegal and others, suggests humans are wired to track negative information more closely as a survival mechanism, which makes operating from a fear-based mindset the norm, and perhaps even adaptive—to an extent. Looking for exceptions, and remembering cross cultural and interfaith spiritual teachings about the balance of positive and negative forces requires effort, focus, intent, and the social support of others. Often, this is the work of a counselor, as we, along with our clients, live in a world where we are often subject to falling into despair, hopelessness, and helplessness when the weight of our life experiences becomes too much to bear. We can spiral into a negatively biased one-sided view, and forget or fail to see the positivity, or silver lining, that is also present. Now, more than ever, it seems to me that it is the evolutionary work of human consciousness to stay out of binary polarized reality and seek a unifying third possibility.
This relates to one of the teachings offered in the Hermeneutics of Depth Psychology Course at Southwestern College. Students in that course are invited to engage in a process called the “Golden Triangle Meditation,” originally developed by Roberto Assagioli, and long utilized by Southwestern College founder and President Emeritus, Dr. Robert Waterman in teaching the Hermeneutics (previously Archeytypal Psychology) course. The practice utilizes Jung’s ideas about the tension of the opposites, with the alchemy of that tension pointing us to a third possibility. In this experiential, students identify a place of polarization or opposition in their lives, and through guided imagery and active imagination, a new reality emerges to resolve the tension.
Anytime we find ourselves operating from one side of a polarized position, such as looking through the lens of a “bad news bias,” perhaps we might choose to consider a more balanced view that goes beyond good/bad, right/wrong, either/or and invite a third perspective of both/and which can move us into integration, appreciation, and compassion.