Harvard Professor Steven Pinker on Why We Refuse to See the Bright Side, Even Though We Should

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker on Why We Refuse to See the Bright Side, Even Though We Should

…But when people are asked about their countries, they switch from Pollyanna to Eeyore: everyone else is miserable, they insist, and the world is going to hell in a handcart.

This disconnect originates in the nature of news. News is about what happens, not what doesn’t happen, so it features sudden and upsetting events like fires, plant closings, rampage shootings and shark attacks.

Most positive developments are not camera-friendly, and they aren’t built in a day.

You never see a headline about a country that is not at war, or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists–or the fact that since yesterday, 180,000 people have escaped extreme poverty.

The bad habits of media in turn bring out the worst in human cognition. Our intuitions about risk are driven not by statistics but by images and stories. People rank tornadoes (which kill dozens of Americans a year) as more dangerous than asthma (which kills thousands), presumably because tornadoes make for better television. It’s easy to see how this cognitive bias–stoked by the news policy “If it bleeds, it leads”–could make people conclude the worst about where the world is heading.

Irrational pessimism is also driven by a morbid interest in what can go wrong–and there are always more ways for things to go wrong than to go right. This creates a market for experts to remind us of things that can go wrong that we may have overlooked.

Biblical prophets, oped pundits, social critics, dystopian filmmakers and tabloid psychics know they can achieve instant gravitas by warning of an imminent doomsday. …

Psychologists have identified other reasons we are nostalgic about the past and jaundiced about the present. Time heals most wounds: the negative coloring of bad experiences fades with the passing of years.

Also, we are liable to confuse the heavier burdens of maturity with a world that has lost its innocence, and the inevitable decline in our faculties with a decline in the times. As the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”

The rest of that article is located here, on Time’s site


More on the This Blog:

Being Positive, Associating With Positive People Can Increase Your Chances of Success by K. Elkins

Forget Positive Thinking: This Is How To Actually Change Negative Thoughts For Success by M. Wilding

 

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