News stories highlighting kindness inspire communities

  • Date

    Wed 17 May 23

Kathryn Buchanan

News bulletins that highlight kindness alongside negative stories have the power to inspire communities, University of Essex research suggests.

The study suggests shining a light on the best of human behaviour helps alleviates anguish caused by reports on tragedies.

The cross-continental investigation shows that balanced reporting has a positive impact on society and mental well-being.

Dr Kathryn Buchanan, from the Department of Psychology, led the study and is calling for journalistic reform.

“With 1 in 3 people limiting or avoiding news coverage due to its disheartening content, restoring balance to the news with some kindness-focused news stories may offer the hope and mood boost people need, to continue engaging with all that’s happening in the world,” said Dr Buchanan

In total 1,806 people in America and Britain were studied and shown real reports and footage from major disasters and crime stories.

They were also shown stories of kind acts – like a nine-year-old using her birthday money to buy food for the homeless – and funny items, such as an American tourist locked in a British bookstore being rescued after tweeting for help.

It was discovered those shown balanced bulletins enjoyed better moods, societal beliefs, and willingness to act for the benefit of society.

One of the participants said: “I felt inspired to do better as a person and human being.”

In addition, it was discovered funny tales were not as effective in alleviating the aversive effects of exposure to negative news, leading the researchers to conclude that “there is something uniquely powerful and restorative about seeing others’ kindness that is not simply attributable to it triggering pleasant feelings”

Dr Buchanan’s paper - Buffering the effects of bad news:  Exposure to others’ kindness alleviates the aversive effects of viewing others’ acts of immorality - was published in PLOS-One.

Dr Buchanan said: “News stories featuring the best of humanity take the sting out of items exploring the worst of humanity.

“This allows people to maintain a core belief that is crucial for good mental health: that the world and the people in it are fundamentally good.”