(Newswise) — People who saw news about human kindness after consuming 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, according to a study published May 17, 2023 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Kathryn Buchanan from the University of Essex, and colleague Gillian Sandstrom from the University of Sussex, UK.
The authors split 1,800 study participants into different groups. Across all the groups, participants were shown one- to three-minute-long video news clips or given brief news stories to read. In the “immorality” group, participants were given news on a recent terrorist attack or similar stories.
A “kindness” group were given reports of kind acts performed in response to the terrorist attack or unrelated kind acts. The “amusement” group, on the other hand, were given lighthearted, unserious material, as well as content from the Immorality group, plus material from either the Kindness or the Amusement group.
The “Immorality” group participants reported substantial increases in negative emotion with simultaneous decreases in positive emotion, and more negative perceptions of humanity and society.
In comparison, the group that received a combination of materials covering immorality and kindness reported more positive emotion and perceptions of society. This group was more effective at mitigating the negative effects of news covering immorality than both the immorality group and the group that received a combination of materials on immorality and amusement. This immorality and kindness combination resulted in lower increases in negative emotion and dramatic increases in positive emotion.
Stories about human kindness were most effective, but lighthearted news also showed an emotional buffering effect.
The results suggest that positive news can help provide an emotional buffer against negative news. Viewing kind acts, versus merely amusing acts, was especially effective in helping participants retain beliefs about the goodness of others.
The authors hope their results will push the media to incorporate more positive coverage, as well as constructive or solution-oriented framing for complex, important issues.
The authors add: “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.”