Good news stories take sting out of negative ones, study suggests

News stories that report on the best of humanity can help take the “sting” out of negative news, research suggests.

A study found that people who saw news about human kindness after news about a terrorist attack, or other immoral acts, felt fewer negative emotions and retained more belief in the goodness of humanity compared to people given just the bad news.

The findings suggest positive news can help provide an emotional buffer against negative news.

According to the research, viewing kind acts, versus merely amusing acts, was especially effective in helping people retain beliefs about the goodness of others.

Kathryn Buchanan from the University of Essex, and colleague Gillian Sandstrom, from the University of Sussex, said: “News stories featuring the best of humanity take the sting out of items exploring the worst of humanity.

“This allows people to believe, to maintain a core belief that is crucial for good mental health – that the world and the people in it are fundamentally good.”

For the study researchers split 1,800 people into different groups.

Everyone was shown one- to three-minute-long video news clips or given brief news stories to read.

The immorality group was given news reporting on a recent UK-based terrorist attack or similar, while reports of kind acts performed in response to the terrorist attack or unrelated kind acts were shown to the kindness group.

Light-hearted, unserious material was shown to the amusement group, and content from the immorality group plus either the kindness (immorality and kindness), or the amusement (immorality and amusement) group.

The researchers found that people in the immorality group reported both significant increases in negative emotion and significant decreases in positive emotion, as well as more negative perceptions of humanity and society.

People in the immorality and kindness group reported relatively lower increases in negative emotion and lower decreases–or even significant increases–in positive emotion, the study found.

Immorality and kindness group members also reported significantly more positive perceptions of humanity than those in the immorality group.

While the immorality and kindness group reported more effective mitigation of the negative effects of immorality than the immorality and amusement group, both in terms of increases in positive emotion and perceptions of society, the study found.

Researchers hope their results, published in Plos One, will push the media to incorporate more positive coverage, as well as constructive or solution-oriented framing for complex, important issues.