Break This, News! No Fear!

You’ve probably heard the children’s tale of Chicken Little who worried continually and went around yelling, “The sky is falling” after an acorn fell on her head while she was walking in the woods. Well, the sky wasn’t imploding. However, Chicken Little’s continual spouting of her worries about the sky ended up leading to an untimely fate for himself and a few friends she met along the way during her trip in the woods in the paws of Foxey Loxey.

Welcome to the concept of fear-based psychology, which Chicken Little’s friends, Henny Penny and Ducky Lucky, fell prey to. While this seems like only a children’s tale, if you stop and think about it, we’re often influenced by fear-based psychology in today’s modern world. Just think about the television shows, websites and publications that are popular and available 24/7.
Many of these media outlets embrace some form of propaganda in order to boost their ratings. Just look at the headlines and lead paragraphs! Whether it’s the election cycle, the fear of terrorism, gun ownership or race relationship, many of these media outlets swear by the concept, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Media That Thrives on Creating Fear

These media outlets – whether print, online, television or radio and from all sides of the political spectrum — use several methods to grab viewer’s attention. These include the teaser (which taps into a person’s fear for their safety, health or financial well-being) and the crawl (which communicates “breaking news”).

Another tactic is the media’s reporting of stories that often don’t scratch the surface and avoid fact-checking when they are first aired or posted. “What occurs psychologically for the viewer is a fragmented sense of knowing what’s real, which sets off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – experiences known to worsen depression,” wrote Dr. Deborah Serani in an article for Psychology Today. We also are seeing a similar approach being taken in some political candidates’ campaigns.

This media approach triggers the brains’ limbic system, which is responsible for fear, aggression and rage. The limbic system includes the part of the brain known as the lizard brain because it triggers the primitive survival instincts of flight or fight. The media and many political candidates know how to use fear to tap into this area of the brain, thus creating a vicious circle (and a lot of stress, panic and anger). This feedback loop between propaganda and the brain can quickly result in increased chronic stress, which can lead to major physical and mental issues, including cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stepping Away from the Media

So how can you limit your exposure to this propaganda and lower your fear levels? Experts suggest several options:

– Step away on occasion from watching, listening or reading reports from media outlets.

– Try to take at least one day a week off from all electronic devices.

– Consider using print media instead of visual media so you’re not pulled in by emotionally charged pictures or videos.

– Acknowledge your fears.

– Think positive

– Manage stress

– Practice courageous acts.

– Practice mindfulness meditation.

Propaganda has been part of our world for a long time. However, the onset of 24/7 availability of media outlets keeps these stories in our faces on a daily – and sometimes hourly – basis. Taking a step back to breathe and relax can help you negate the effect of propaganda. Perhaps we all should take a lesson from Chicken Little’s cautionary tale and realize that – despite what the media and candidates tell us – the sky really is not falling.

Written by Dorian Marin 

Conceptualized and Edited by Jennifer Buergermeister 

Primary Sources for This Blog:

Gregoire, C. (2013). The Science of Conquering Your Fears – and Living A More Courageous Life. The Huffington Post.

Rajmohan, V. & Mohandas, E. (2007). Indian Journal of Psychiatry.

Serani, D. (2011). If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media. Psychology Today.




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