Human brains, in general, are designed to accept good news a lot better than bad news because of the inter-connected cognitive enhancements they represent. Ofcourse, good news is highly subjective to perception; regardless, research has shown that we tend to be a lot more ‘receptive’ to good news (if we perceive it that way), and that is what helps us maintain stability, beliefs, norms, and generate thinking patterns (neural activity, synapses). This doesn’t mean bad news is not read by our brains, its just that they are not strong enough to create effective and long-term links.
What’s unfortunate is that not many of us carry this ability. Some may have more than others, and others may have none whatsoever. Hence, we end up in situations like extended depressions, extreme negativity towards events (again, if we perceive it that way), anger, anxiety, impatience etc. Part of the blame can be given to our evolutionary processes, including: historic events, family history, culture/background/religion, etc. Since its an unbalanced act of nature, several scientists are at it again to make our lives a bit easier.
The attached research/source article focuses on a study performed in University College (London, UK). Their focus was on a phenomena they call “good news/bad news” effect and how they can manipulate it using a device called TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).
Before we jump to results and conclusions, a few answers for the curious mind.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive method to cause depolarization or hyperpolarization in the neurons of the brain.
TMS uses electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents using a rapidly changing magnetic field; this can cause activity in specific or general parts of the brain with minimal discomfort, allowing the functioning and interconnections of the brain to be studied.
TMS uses electromagnetic induction to generate an electric current across the scalp and skull without physical contact. A plastic-enclosed coil of wire is held next to the skull and when activated, produces a magnetic field oriented orthogonally to the plane of the coil. The magnetic field passes unimpeded through the skin and skull, inducing an oppositely directed current in the brain that activates nearby nerve cells in much the same way as currents applied directly to the cortical surface.
What’s the good news/bad news effect?
It’s “the tendency to selectively ignore negative information” (Source2). It’s how people *naturally* weaken the strength of negative news because they know how it might affect their thinking patterns. This thought-process in itself is good enough to fight depression, but as mentioned before – those who lack this cognitive analysis end up feeling miserable.
The part of the brain that carries this ability is known as IFG (inferior frontal gyrus), specifically the ‘left-IFG’ (LIFG). IFG, as a whole, is responsible for abilities that make us “human”, for example: reversal learning, integrating information or updating beliefs, carrying or removing desires, tracking errors and learning from them, memory inhibition, multi-tasking, etc. LIFG is known to preserve beliefs and track errors, it’s also the home to “the optimism bias”, which is the main culprit in developing attachment to good news.
What were the results?
Researchers used TMS around LIFG on approximately 30 test subjects, and came up with astounding results.
“.. interfering with activity of the left IFG using TMS paradoxically enhanced participants’ ability to alter beliefs in response to unfavorable information regarding the risk of encountering negative events.”
“.. results should not be interpreted as suggesting that the disruption of left IFG function improves learning or decisionmaking in general. Rather, our study provides an interesting instance of how a selective disruption to a specific brain region may enhance the tendency to integrate negative information into beliefs regarding vulnerability.”
“.. this enhancement may be suboptimal, as underestimating our susceptibility to negative events has adaptive benefits that include increasing explorative behavior and reducing stress and anxiety, a factor that has links with physical and mental well-being”
So, what’s the big deal here?
The big deal is, scientists have almost pinpointed out where thought processes or beliefs are stored, and how they can be interrupted using magnetic waves. Finally, an answer to depression without pills or chemical enhancements. Ofcourse, any great discovery can be used for either good or bad purpose, but what we need to understand is this: every brain carries the ability to stay positive. It’s part of the package. However, this package has a switch — some have it turned off, turned on, or just not properly programmed — but all can be tweaked regardless of switch-status. Because our brains have the ability to stay ‘positive’ all the time, it might hinder us from oncoming dangers or risks that might be lingering around the corner.
Examples would include:
- The possible downfall: stock markets (expecting way too much but getting no returns), relationships (expecting things to turn around eventually but they never really do even after multiple attempts), businesses (expecting high rates of return even though things were not executed as they should have) etc.
- Ill preparedness: facing natural disasters (weather man says get out of the area yet people completely ignore), facing imminent threats (local folks warn the threat of tanks yet people completely ignore the repercussions of an oncoming threat)
- Overly aggressive decisions: medical (getting an operation done based on simple symptoms), financial (getting everything on credit because it can be done and not thinking about possibilities of what could happen in between)
- Overconfidence / Over-optimism: self explanatory.
What needs to be done: a thorough self-analysis. Realistically, positivity in anything keeps us stable and calm creatures. A thorough-analysis should help us make *better* decisions for a *better* state-of-mind.
Many of us become lazy when it comes to discovering ourselves. Those who desperately need help can go through this brain-wave switch tweaking process and probably discover how to stay away from depression. While the rest of us can adapt other ways and try to focus on making our lives better.
On a sidenote, that’s why media is always trying to focus on the bad news since its not easily stored by the brain (generally). Since bad news is forgotten news, it sounds fresh and intriguing to the mind every time its on TV. Hence, negative news = *new content for brain* = concentration = but then forgotten = a never ending cycle of concentration = never ending cycle of ratings = media’s livelihood = pathetic.
Source2: PNAS (Full research)