Why does negative information proliferate faster than positive information?

In a recent study of anti-vaccine twitter campaigns by Penn State researchers, it was concluded that anti-vaccination twitter posts spread quicker than posts supporting vaccination. It felt to me that this study was a small example of a larger phenomenon; doesn’t negative information always spread faster in all instances? Why is this the case? I think it has to do with the fact that negative information could have greater ramifications on the society as a whole. For instance, when there is negative information about topics such as transportation, the economy, or health-care, everyone might be impacted now or in the future in some way. When gas prices go up, news spreads quickly because of the large majority of people that own cars and are not looking forward to the burden of having to pay higher gas prices. Is the converse true when gas prices go down? There’s typically not much of a discussion when prices go down, perhaps occasional tweets or facebook posts about the lower prices of gasoline, going around in excitement, but not too often.

Each year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) releases crash test information for new vehicles, is it not the cars that perform very poorly that get highlighted in web discussions, and on the evening news. They also publish a list of cars that performed very well, but I’d argue you would rather be more interested in which cars performed poorly, and then you’d check how the car you own or want to buy performed, and then you’ll look at the list of best performing cars.

Gossip plays a factor as well in spreading negative information faster, in the working-world, what’s more of a devastating topic to discuss someone getting laid-off or fired or someone being promoted. The former is more engaging due to the fact that most employees fear being made redundant, while many may not as be interested in talk of a promotion due to added duties or personal disinterest in the person who was promoted.

Emotionally does positive information make people feel bad or intimidated, heaven forbid that people actively wish for negative information to be generated for someone they know. I had a friend who actually deleted their facebook account because they told me they could not stand seeing other people happy, perhaps that’s the extreme case and requires counseling. I asked them if they would prefer negative information instead and they said no of course not, however they did mention they preferred hearing no positive information due to personal disinterest.

Perhaps, fictional madman news magnate Elliot Carver from the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies said it well:  “There’s no news, like bad news!” 

Further Reading:




One thought on “Why does negative information proliferate faster than positive information?”

  1. I don’t think that people wish for negative information. Well, maybe some people do. Sometimes I get sick of reading or watching the news because it’s full of bad news. That’s interesting though, seeing why bad news often outnumbers good news, or why it’s stickier/more effective.

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