FACEBOOK AND THE APE

I’m an anthropologist with a specialisation in neurosciences. In the past few years I’ve been focusing on a psychological bias called “Negativity Bias”. We humans inherited this bias from our ancestors living million of years ago: when a starving monkey sees a tree full of bananas she rushes to it, but if she sees a lion sleeping near that tree she’ll freezes until the lion is gone, no matter how hungry she is. The negative information (the lion, the fear to be killed) overrules the positive information (available bananas, the need for food). We are genetically biased toward negative information although we live in a world where there is no much danger of being eaten by a lion. Unfortunately, because of the Negativity Bias we bring more attention to bad news than to good news. We react to information as if we were still striving for survival in the jungle.

This subconscious preference for negative information is regularly used by media: news channels feed us with bad news to keep us hooked to the screen. When they give us positive topics there are good chances we’ll change to a news channel talking about tragic events.

This is how the news system has to work today. This is how social media, politics and advertisement work today, this is how the global information system works today: we are constantly bombarded by bad news, hatred speeches, negative informations because the ape in us is biased toward negativity, focuses more easily on bad news.

Negative information feeds more negative information, more negative behaviour, more verbal aggression, more hatred, more polarisation. On the mid term this disrupts our intellect and the social fabric itself, which is based on trust of the citizens toward each other and toward society as a whole.

Facebook nerds have been trying to tackle this problem for years but they can’t win this battle alone, because if they change the algorithm we, the “voters/consumers/netizens” of the XXI century would switch from Facebook toward a new platform feeding us with bad news producing worries, fear, frustration, hatred, aggression, negativity, blame...

What can we do then? I’m not sure about fixing Facebook but the whole media system will not change unless we change the ape in us. That ape needs to be tamed with some mental hygiene: working on our mindfulness (becoming able to observe our own thoughts and emotions), our empathy (becoming able to observe other’s thoughts and emotions), our joy of living (clearly feeling how fortunate we are compared to our ancestors and other living beings), our gratitude (understanding how important are others for our own wellbeing)… Those are just a few suggestions, my 2-cents, to move away from the risk of a global civil war nobody really wants. Guido Freddi (from a post I wrote on Facebook after watching this worrying CBS "60-Minutes" episode).



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