Why are there so many negative stories about teenagers in the media? Because that’s what older folk like to read.
Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University gave 276 volunteers an online magazine to browse. She found that older people preferred to read negative news about young people, rather than positive news. What’s more, those older readers who choose to read negative stories about young individuals receive a small boost to their self-esteem as a result. Younger readers, in contrast, prefer not to read about older people at all.
We gravitate towards information that confirms our opinions, and tend to avoid that which will undermine or challenge us. It is just one of the many examples of cognitive biases at play in decision-making and judgment. Having our prejudices confirmed makes us feel better about ourselves, that is why we get the gleeful urge to say “I told you so”. This study may be most revealing because it does not demonstrate a general schadenfreude, but a one-directional, specific effect that should give us pause to think about the media’s coverage of young people.
It’s confirmation bias all the way down!