ARRGGHHH We’re All Going to Die!


[Photo by Sir Frog]

London is currently the centre
of world attention as security forces claim to have foiled a terrorist plot to
bomb a number of civilian aircraft. In response the media has gone into
special-event overdrive which usually involves: a) endless repetition of the
same sketchy information and b) pointless graphics attempting to cover up for a
lack of cold hard facts. Not that I’ve been watching or reading any of it – I
don’t see the point.
Special news events only serve
to display in even starker contrast how little most of the news really matters
to the average person who isn’t directly affected. And yet people are glued to
it, why? I mentioned three psychological theories in relation to last year’s
tube and bus bombings. These theories are useful but don’t tell the whole
Perhaps there are, in fact,
more disasters nowadays than there used to be. While this immediately smacks of
seeing the past through rose-tinted contacts, according to figures from Center
for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, this might be true. Between 1970
and 1979, 1,230 disasters were registered, while more than 3,000 disasters were
reported between 2000 and 2003. Perhaps the world really is getting more
disaster prone.
And then there’s the other
culprit: media hype*. The media runs on hype, it’s what they live for and it’s
what keeps them alive. Take the hype out of the media and you get, well, The
Independent (sorry, I love it really). So if the media need their hype the same
way I need food, oxygen and House M.D.), what harm does it do?
It’s very difficult to tell.
Vasterman, Yzermans & Dirkzwager (2005) say there have only been a handful
of studies carried out and still there is little concrete evidence. Given the
nature of the problem, that’s probably the way it will remain. Despite this,
they do point to some correlational evidence that connects depression and
post-traumatic stress disorder with viewing ‘disaster-related television’. I
certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
*Although the term ‘media
hype’ doesn’t have much scientific currency at present, Vasterman (2005) is
trying to change that with his theoretical framework.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.