The Mean World Syndrome Explained- The Negative Effect Of Media

by Kareena Dodeja

The Mean World Syndrome Explained- The Negative Effect Of Media

April 5, 2021

2020 was a tough year for all of us. We couldn’t escape the negative news cycle- it was filled with injustice, riots, and a global pandemic. It was too much to comprehend and we would have found no way to avoid the news. The world isn’t as dangerous as it seems.

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What Is The Mean World Syndrome?

The heavy months during the pandemic were all we heard on news. Every channel covered the latest updates about the coronavirus. A syndrome is said to be something that can cause pessimism, fear, and the inability to gauge reality. What we were watching could have a negative impact on how we view the world, a sociology concept states so. This is where the ‘mean world syndrome’ steps in.

The concept of ‘Mean World Syndrome’ was coined by Dr. George Gerbner in the 1970s. His main understanding is based on the idea that we develop a cognitive bias wherein we see the world to be dangerous more than it actually is. When we are exposed to mass media such as news reports or television shows that display violence, we are affected by the content. We feel overwhelmed, fearful, anxious, and threatened by our surroundings.

When Gerbner began working on his study, media was smaller than what it is today. He explained that one growing up from infancy is subjected to an unprecedented diet of violence faces consequences. If we grow up in what we suppose is a mean world, we act accordingly as it reinforces fears and paranoia.

What is fascinating is that a news report or a horror movie could change our belief in the world because of the way it was portrayed. A well-directed movie or a well-written article could instill fear among us easily. We tend to alter our perception of the world and create a different view than the real one, a much more dangerous one.

Why You Got To Be So Mean?

Gerbner realized that people are most likely to see violence as a solution to problems rather than other ways. When we feel convinced that the world is dangerous, it triggers in us a sense of insecurity. He testified before a congressional committee in 1981 that fearful people are dependent, easily manipulated, controlled, and more susceptible to being deceived.

There have been numerous studies that support the theory as well as highlight that violent content can be emotionally taxing on one’s mind. There have come up with ideas on how to combat the syndrome without isolating it from television or news. The negative effects can be at the back of our minds with these ways.

One of the proven ways to dismiss the negative impact is by just thinking it is in our heads or an illusion that is taking over our minds. A Counsellor, Beverly Hills in an interview mentioned that these feelings can lead to physical symptoms. They said that it could be hard to distinguish entertainment from reality. Our brains can be confused to tell apart an exciting fact from fiction. We get caught up in a loop that we believe that the danger is real and exists in real life.

The Mean World Syndrome is befitting to tick the inner fears in us; it could be our fear of death or Fear of missing out. We have a fight, flight, or freeze instinct and our bodies are filled with chemicals that can protect us from any bad situation. The instincts within us can defend us from harm but the syndrome triggers us making us live in fear.

Our instincts respond immediately when we feel anxious or stressed. It controls how we feel towards a news report and if we react negatively. It is hard to differentiate between fact or fiction as our thoughts are sprawled all over the place. Yes, we face harsh reality at times but the way it is presented is what makes it difficult. The sensationalized portrayal on news and movies tends to persuade people to feel helpless. Some of us end up being cynical as we cannot forget the negative aspect of situations.

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How Do We Combat The Mean World Syndrome?

One of the ways to combat the mean world syndrome is by challenging the way we think. The first thought that comes across our mind is known as ‘automatic thinking.’ What matters is how we condition our minds as the more repetitive the messages are, they stuck to us more in terms of fear.

One of the questions we can ask ourselves is whether this is fact or fiction or just a random thought. If it gets out of our hands, a counselor can help to unravel the thoughts. Identifying the source of where our fear stems from can be challenging but effective to combat the syndrome. Another effective way would be to control how much time we spend using social media. The more we stream, the more we get roped into watching the negative news and overthinking.

When we use social media, it is important to have a timeline that is positive so we don’t get rattled. If the news you are consuming makes you feel overwhelmed, take a step back from the media. There are positive news platforms that make us aware that there is a lot more to look out for. Following up with positive news stories can balance out the negative stories we are prone to, it can create awareness that not all is scary as it seems. Being aware of the positive stories is equally important as it can protect our mental well-being. Not all is bad, right?


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