Constant negative news stories are instilling 'learned helplessness' in Americans

It can diminish the quality of your work in the long-term.

Constant negative news stories are instilling 'learned helplessness' in Americans
Photo credit: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

We already know that being exposed to negative news raises one's stress in the short term. Now recent research — published in 2015 — indicates it can also hurt the quality of your work in the long term.


Authors Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, writing for Harvard Business Review, explain that their findings suggest we should steer clear of media outlets when we begin our day:

"We believe that negative news influences how we approach our work and the challenges we encounter at the office because it shows us a picture of life in which our behavior does not matter. The majority of news stories showcase problems in our world that we can do little or nothing about. We see the market dropping 500 points or ISIS poised to attack, and we feel powerless to change those outcomes. In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called 'learned helplessness,' which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression."

Achor and Gielan have been researching this topic for several years. This latest research, a collaborative effort with Arianna Huffington, builds off a preliminary study from 2012 from which they determined negative news puts you in a bad mood. Their latest experiment involved a blind study featuring 110 participants who started their day watching one of two kinds of news stories: either negative news or "stories of resilience," which implied that people's behavior matters. The results were shockingly stark: "Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27 percent greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition."

Achor, a New York Times best-selling author, is also a Big Think expert. Check out his advice for turning happiness into productivity:


The ripple effect of imbibing bad news eventually reaches one's work. This is one of the key takeaways in much of Achor and Gielan's collected work: Positivity begets good results, while negativity slows us down, makes us lethargic, and adversely affects the pursuit of our goals. The authors suggest several strategies for reducing this effect, mostly through being aware of the consequences of negative stimuli and attempting to envelop yourself in the inverse.

If you begin the day with "empowering, solutions-focused" news, you're less likely to get bogged down in the negativity of the outside world. If your workplace insists on having CNN running on the television in the morning, let your boss know that they're sabotaging the company's work. You'll all be better off without it.

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Robert Montenegro is a writer, playwright, and dramaturg who lives in Washington DC. His beats include the following: tech, history, sports, geography, culture, and whatever Elon Musk has said on Twitter over the past couple days. He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter at @Monteneggroll and visit his po'dunk website at robertmontenegro.com.

Read more at HBR.

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