Not as bad as many people think

Things aren’t as bad in the world as many people seem to think. Why does pessimism often take precedence over facts?

BBC:  Why things may be not be as bad as we think

…most of us, most of the time, seem to think the world’s going to hell in a handcart – even when it isn’t.

I don’t know if ‘most of us’ is accurate – perhaps most of those who express their fears about what problems are actual or imminent.

The evidence is in a report by the research company Ipsos-Mori, The Perils of Perception. Our perceptions of the world, it turns out, are often at odds with the reality – and significantly more negative.

The researchers put the same questions to people in 38 countries, and found a pattern.

Some examples:

  • The murder rate in most countries has fallen significantly in the past 15 years. That’s the reality, but most people don’t believe it – fewer than one in 10 thinks there are fewer murders
  • Deaths from terrorist attacks around the world were lower in the past 15 years than in the previous 15 – but only a fifth of us think that’s the case

Even when it comes to other areas of public life, people’s assessments can tend to be incorrect.

For example, people overestimate the number of teenage pregnancies by what the researchers call staggering amounts.

In some countries, they think about half of teenage girls get pregnant every year: in reality, the highest figure for any country is 6.7%, and the rate across all 38 countries is just 2%.

Teen pregnancy rates in New Zealand (source NZH):

  • 1962: 5.4%
  • 1972: 6.9%
  • 2008: 3.3%
  • 2016: 1.6%

Coupled with that are misconceptions  about the rate of teenage mothers on the ‘DPB’.

One reason for this tendency to assume the worst of the world, say the Ipsos-Mori people, is that we’re genetically programmed to believe bad news more readily than good.

Our brains process negative information in a different way and store it more accessibly than positive stuff.

News is by definition something unexpected, surprising, and probably alarming. The world is getting healthier and wealthier, which is good news, but headlines about that sort of thing just don’t cut it when there’s a terrorist attack or a war to report.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is said to be the tabloid news editor’s mantra. Whoever coined the phrase clearly had a profound insight into human nature.

Critics talk about “fear-based media”. If we’re fed such a relentlessly negative diet, they ask, is it any wonder we end up thinking the world is a terrible place?

Except, it turns out, we already thought that – or at least were predisposed to think it.

All those negative news stories are just reinforcement, feeding us what we’re programmed to want – because it may save our lives.

This hypersensitivity to negative information – or bad news – apparently served an important function as human beings evolved.

Having the kind of brain that reacted more strongly to information about possible dangers meant, quite simply, that you were likely to live longer.

And those who didn’t have that kind of brain? Well, as one scientist delicately put it, they “got edited out of the gene pool”.

Now those who worry too much about negatives and fear that the sky is about to fall are more likely to die of stress related illness.

 

33 Comments

  1. unitedtribes2

     /  December 27, 2017

    millions of refugees fled Europe in 2017

  2. David

     /  December 27, 2017

    We are living in a Golden Age. Anyone who thinks otherwise is quite insane.

    • Gezza

       /  December 27, 2017

      The BBC article doesn’t say which were the 38 countries. Wondering if, say, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan were included?

      • Conspiratoor

         /  December 27, 2017

        Here’s a few destinations you might like to visit in order to sate your new found thirst for exotic places G …all now safer than the US 

        Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Madagascar, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Malawi 

        https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/africa-travel-myths/

        • Gezza

           /  December 27, 2017

          No open carry? No armed toddler as their President?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  December 27, 2017

          Conspiratoor…you’re not SERIOUS ! Remind me to live there rather than the US.

      • David

         /  December 27, 2017

        Some places in the world suck. Who knew?

        • Gezza

           /  December 27, 2017

          I had an inkling … mainly from the news.

          I just thought the article would’ve said what the countries were. It’s a typical Xmas silly season feel good fluff article really. Doesn’t really amount to much.

  3. We trust our institutions less than we did. I don’t think that is just perception. What’s more we are being managed with the aim of breaking down national boundaries and against human nature.

    • PartisanZ

       /  December 28, 2017

      I think we’re being managed with the aim of breaking down national boundaries only in spheres where national boundaries don’t work – selected aspects of national sovereignty – global security being the most obvious.

      This might temporarily feel like its against human nature … and world peace will be an ongoing challenge …

      Rogerednomics felt to me like it was against human nature … but I’m told it was ultimately for the best for everyone on the planet … Right? And we gave up a goodly amount of national sovereignty for its ‘globalisation’, Right? And the best mix of capitalism and socialism is an ongoing challenge … Right?

  4. NOEL

     /  December 27, 2017

    Was some research a couple of decades ago that suggested those suffering depression had the most realistic perception between them and optimists and pessimists.
    Now its got a name.
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201206/depressive-realism

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  December 27, 2017

      It’s crap isn’t it. First it says that most people are over-optimistic. Then it claims that will lead to problems. However most people don’t have these problems. Therefore the hypothesis is false.

    • David

       /  December 27, 2017

      Life is suffering. Accept that and greatness can be yours.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 27, 2017

        In many cases, over-optimism must lead to problems.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  December 27, 2017

          Not necessarily. Over-optimism may just mean not worrying about potential problems until you have to deal with them. That can be entirely realistic and sensible.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  December 27, 2017

            Or ignoring warning signs-nah, it’ll never happen…

            Over-optimism is not being realistic. Optimism is good, over-optimism is not.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 27, 2017

              That points to a semantic issue with the study. The study concluded most people over-estimate the probability of good outcomes and therefore that they were over-optimistic. But maybe they were merely optimistic. There was no basis for discriminating between those two descriptions.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  December 27, 2017

              To me, if someone is over-optimistic, they are blinding themselves to reality-and they are really annoying to be with. So are those who are total pessimists. I prefer to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. If I need work done by a tradie, I ask what the worst possible scenario would be…then I know that it can’t be worse than X and is probably going to be better :-/

        • Blazer

           /  December 27, 2017

          Any idea what under optimism. ..leads. .to.

  5. PartisanZ

     /  December 27, 2017

    Misconceptions have become political currency and media stock-in-trade …

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 27, 2017

      They always have been, I think.

      • PartisanZ

         /  December 27, 2017

        Before they were preconceptions Miss Kitty, I think?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  December 27, 2017

          Probably not, some things don’t change as time passes.

          • PartisanZ

             /  December 27, 2017

            Political BS via the media being one of them …

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  December 27, 2017

              I don’t believe that politics consist of nothing else-it would make voters look like idiots.

              Some of the c.18 and earlier cartoons and writings would never be printed now by any editor who had any sense and didn’t want to find themselves in court.

  6. PartisanZ

     /  December 27, 2017

    Not as bad as many people think … but worse for some people than some people think

  7. PartisanZ

     /  December 27, 2017

    The teen pregnancy rate figures are interesting. The rate was highest before there was a DPB!

    There goes another Rightie ‘urbane myth’ …

    • What has interested me is how they’ve dropped so much in the last few years. I wondered whether the role models and celebrity culture has been, in some part, responsible

  8. PartisanZ

     /  December 28, 2017

    Maybe many people think its bad because many people think they don’t have ANY say in how good or bad it is?

    Maybe thinking it’s bad is a perfectly realistic and understandable response to its cultural insanity?

    “A machine could do this job … and it wouldn’t have to commute for one-and-a-half hours in gridlocked traffic to get here … “