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If you feel the only news you read lately is bad news, it might not be your imagination.

A group of researchers from Dartmouth and Brown Universities studied all the COVID-19 related news articles published by U.S. major media outlets written since January 1, 2020 and found that even when they were reporting positive news – like school re-openings and vaccine trials – 87% of the time the news was written with a negative tone.

It didn’t matter if the story was being reported by CNN or Fox News, as political or social bias had no influence on the negativity.  On the other hand, the same events reported by scientific journals and non-U.S. major news sources were negative only 50 to 64% of the time.

Based on the most viewed and most shared stories, the study concluded that consumers in the U.S. and U.K. strongly prefer negative stories both about COVID-19 and life in general, but in the U.S. our media is more willing to satisfy our demand for negativity both in COVID-19 and pre-COVID years.

Why is this important?

A steady diet of negative news can lead you to believe there is little likelihood that you will ever be able to live your life the way you did before COVID-19.  It can also influence your thinking about your financial future.

During the pandemic we’ve seen an uptick in suicides, depression and breakdowns.  While being cut off from social activities, travel, family and friends has been difficult, a constant input of bad news isn’t helping.  Human beings have been shown to be far more sensitive to unpleasant news, hold on to bad things that happen to us far longer than the good things, and allow repeated exposure to pessimism and negativity to distort our thinking.

If you’re receiving negative input 87% of the time you read or watch the news, it’s reasonable to begin to think your financial security is in jeopardy.  The inevitable downturns and market corrections that have always occurred may invoke more fear.  And even when logic tells you that following an investment discipline is your best financial strategy, you may have a sense of foreboding that something bad is about to happen and you should be taking defensive action to protect yourself.

If we’re surrounded by negativity and we recognize its impact, how can we reduce its influence on us?  Sometimes, just being aware can help.

My husband listens to science-focused podcasts when he works out in the morning, which puts me in the fortunate position of having a personal curator of scientific news.  Gregg recently shared a February episode of Startalk featuring Max Tegmark, an MIT physicist and creator of the AI media tool Improve The News.

In the interview, Professor Tegmark points out that the algorithms, used by social media sites like Facebook, Google, Instagram and others where many people receive their news, recognize the best way to keep us on their websites is to keep us angry or distressed.  And an easy way to distress someone is to feed them news about how people on the opposite side of their political and philosophical beliefs are destroying the world, ruining our society, imploding the economy, etc.  Once your preferences are detected, you are fed similar articles to trigger strong emotions, which in turn keeps you around to consume even more news.

Improve the News was developed to allow us to consciously select our news preferences, instead of having the algorithms feed it to us.  If we are aware of the bias in the information that is reported to us, we may be less likely to accept any one report as the absolute truth and be more open to a range of possible outcomes or resolutions to problems.  There may be terrible things happening in the world, but there are an equal number of positive things happening that are impacting our lives and financial futures as well.

Over the last year, many of our clients admitted they had not looked at their investment portfolios because they were so afraid to see how much they had fallen, and they were shocked when they realized their accounts had actually gone up over the year.  All the negative reporting led them to believe nothing positive could possibly be happening.

In our world today, I recognize an optimistic outlook is considered naïve and uninformed.  But It might be possible that the world is not as broken as we have been led to believe.  We just need to view it through a more balanced perspective.