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mean world syndrome

Rutger C. Bregmans’s book Humankind: A Hopeful History (2020) is fascinating and moving. Here he is discussing our capacity to manage and copy with the news:

First to open up this field of research, back in the 1990s, was George Gerbner (1919–2005). He also coined a term to describe the phenomenon he found: mean world syndrome, whose clinical symptoms are cynicism, misanthropy and pessimism. People who follow the news are more likely to agree with statements such as Most people care only about themselves.’ They more often believe that we as individuals are helpless to better the world. They are more likely to be stressed and depressed.

In another study, a team of media researchers compiled a database of over four million news items on immigration, crime and terrorism in order to determine if there were any patterns. What they found is that in times when immigration or violence declines, newspapers give them more coverage. Hence,’ they concluded, there seems to be none or even a negative relationship between news and reality.’

As the Lebanese statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb dryly notes, We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press’.

(from Chapter 1.3, no pagination)

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