Despite Mean World Syndrome, The World Isn't As Dangerous As It's Portrayed

Think about the last time you checked the news. Did you feel good afterward? Or, as is often the case these days, did you feel more afraid, angry, cynical, and hopeless? Broadcast news has developed over the years to compete with entertainment for TV ratings. As a result, they tend to sensationalize danger and wrongdoing, evoking fears of corruption and impending doom. The negative effects this has on society at large make up what communications specialist George Gerbner has called the Mean World Syndrome.

The Mean World Syndrome is one of Gerbner's main points under his cultivation theory, which deals with the impact watching television has on how we see the world. The Mean World Syndrome goes one step further, describing the perception that the world is more dangerous than it really is based on what's shown in mass media. According to The Atlantic, there are 3,000 studies before 1971 alone that suggest "a strong connection between television watching and aggression." A lot has been done to shield children from violence on television, but Gerbner argues that we're missing the point. Instead of focusing on ways to hide the violence, he questions the ways in which the violence is portrayed.

The sheer quantity of violence on television can normalize aggressive behavior and make viewers become desensitized. The mind, as Gerbner puts it, becomes "militarized." The more dangerous the media shows our world, the more we believe them. We become fearful and anxious, depend more on authority, and take other precautionary measures, such as moving to gated communities and supporting capital punishment. Gerbner writes, "Growing up in a violence-laden culture breeds aggressiveness in some and desensitization, insecurity, mistrust, and anger in most. Punitive and vindictive action against dark forces in a mean world is made to look appealing, especially when presented as quick, decisive, and enhancing our sense of control and security." Sound familiar?

So what can we do to combat the negative effects of violent media? WIRED suggests taking action on issues that concern you, making sure to get your news from sources of integrity, and to consider going media-free one day a week. Learn more about violence and the media in the following videos.

The Mean World Syndrome Explained

Explore desensitization by the media and how this can give people "mean world syndrome."

The Science Of Fearmongering

Harvard Medical School Psychologist, Susan David explores how we can survive in a world where our fear is constantly being activated.

Symbolic Violence And Social Media

Luca Sartoni explains what symbolic capital is and how it relates to the modern world.

Written by Curiosity Staff November 23, 2016

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