Negativity-bias spread faster than COVID19 : Nitin Saxena

New Delhi:  When was the last time you switched your television news channel off on seeing  a series of deaths or news of pandemic deaths.  When was it when you left a horror film midway and never resumed seeing it ever? Fear gripped you and despite putting a stop-plug on your thoughts, the visuals kept haunting you tossing you into a silent but alarming situation.   Is it natural for people to get attracted towards the dark side of people or deaths, or crime stories?  The answer is  yes.  This is the ‘negativity-bias’ as psychologists call it and say that 70 per cent of people across the world fall in this category.

This is the reason why people are glued to tv news channels during the shutdown to know the latest figures of COVID 19 deaths in their cities and in the country.  Commonly, the talks that are generated on the mobiles are either of the future insecurity or the spread of the super-disease and finally the talks end up on the death figures.  Knowing its morbid nature, we still love it unknown  to the fact that we are being pushed into a vortex of negative emotions.

Negativity tempts the people more than the positivity.  The figures of recovery from the virus is hardly debated or talked about except in news telecast.  All are interested in the numbers of positive cases that are increasing with each passing day.  Most of the people when asked about this trait gave a negative answer concealing that they were prey to such a feeling of thrill in absorbing such kind of ‘horrifying’ information. The psychology studies prove the efficacy of negative feelings that give us a ‘silent thrill’ and a wrapped up fear.  We enjoy it but don’t admit because of the fear of being singled out.

Citing an example of the horror movies,  a lady psychologist Nandini Nautiyal said that commonly people avoid seeing them at night particularly if they are watching it all alone but they don’t realize  it that the characters of the horror movies or some violent murder in it haunts them in the night even if they had watched the film in the afternoon.  The action is replayed in their minds often and sometimes for months.   “Even the hardcore addicts of mobile and tv programmes cannot escape from this phenomenon,” she added.

The University of Central Lancashire at Preston, in United Kingdom,  introduced a course on Dark Tourism about seven years ago, after some students asked the teaching faculty why were people interested in visiting ground zero – the venue of the attack of the twin towers in New York.  Now this was a question that kept the faculty on a thinking mode for long.  Then it was decided that a department would be set up to invite students to enroll themselves for pursuing a course in Dark Tourism, as the department was named.

In a telephonic interview, a senior journalist Rajesh Jha said that tourists were always interested to visit the Jallianwala Bagh where the guide would often repeat the story of General Dyer giving the shooting orders on a motley crowd.  The visitors would enjoy the tale and recreate the entire sequence and ask questions too expressing their curiosity to know more.  “But they would never dare to ask their relatives to reconstruct the site of an accident if someone close to the family had died on the spot after a road accident,” he pointed out.

The negativity-bias spread faster than the COVID 19 itself.  As soon as the shutdown in the country was announced, the fear psychosis rested in.  The TV news channels ignited the fear further showing the shocking video clips of people dying of the virus all over the world.   By mid April, the urban and elite had imprisoned themselves completely and the COVID 19 positives became untouchables.

Restlessness, anxiety, insecurity all came in one by one making the people believe that the world was coming to an end.  This was the immediate fall out of the negativity-bias.  Senior citizens nursed a mild depression hearing about the COVID 19 deaths in the country which caused irritability in their behaviour.  The world leaders also became victims to  the negativity-bias. Their behavioral pattern went for a toss. They lost their power of taking the righteous decision and would not lean on guidance from experts. Negativity-bias is apparently powerful but not invincible.  At one instance, American President walked out of a press conference in protest to a question asked by a correspondent.  The scare snatched a permanent space in the minds of people when news trickled in of the world leaders infected with the virus.  Big names like UK Prime minister, wife of Canadian PM and Spanish PM,  Israel’s health minister, Prince Charles were declared COVID 19 positive.  The world was covered with a blanket of negativities.  People could not think beyond the virus.

The WHO kept confusing the people with reports of ‘no vaccine will be made’ or live with the virus. Homeopathic doctors came out with medicines which they claimed were protective of the virus while the Ayurvedic  practitioners  doled out a concoction of basil leaves, cloves and other kitchen-kept herbs.  All these anti COVID 19 medicines were introduced on  the social media platform which became all the more active during the shutdown period.

Talk of plasma therapy, Israel’s claim to have made the vaccine took rounds  bringing about a chaotic condition in India.

People became angrier and the ‘no-income daily-wagers’ became hungrier.  The Indian government by mid May had been seduced by the negativity-bias too.  The Prime Minister , unable to handle the virus fallout and not ready to admit defeat, wriggled out inch by inch by saying that he had left the State Heads to decide the future course of action.  The opposition party, on the other hand, raised its voice meekly by saying that shutdown was no solution but testing the people speedily should be the priority.

Counter acting the power of negativity – bias was done by appreciating the electorate of their obedient participation and thanking them for respectfully adhering to the guidelines. The doctors and nursing staff plus the law enforcing agencies  were honoured with a new name of warriors and the media churned out stories after stories acknowledging their roles.  But the negativity-bias was in the air and the people who knew this did not utter anything lest their journey from the lockdown may end up in lock-up.

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Nitin Saxena
Nitin Saxena is a Senior Journalist who dabbled into Films and Academics before coming back to Journalim as a Columnist and Communication consultant

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