Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler:
The amygdala is an almond-shaped sliver of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. Anxious under normal conditions, once stimulated, the amygdala becomes hypervigilant. Then our focus tightens and our fight-or-flight response turns on. Heart rate speeds up, nerves fire faster, eyes dilate for improved vision, the skin cools as blood moves toward our muscles for faster reaction times. Cognitively, our pattern-recognition system scours our memories, hunting for similar situations (to help ID the threat) and potential solutions (to help neutralize the threat). But so potent is this response that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.
These days, we are saturated with information. We have millions of news outlets competing for our mind share. And how do they compete? By vying for the amygdala’s attention. The old newspaper saw “If it bleeds, it leads” works because the first stop that all incoming information encounters is an organ already primed to look for danger. We’re feeding a fiend. Pick up the Washington Post and compare the number of positive to negative stories. If your experiment goes anything like mine, you’ll find that over 90 percent of the articles are pessimistic. Quite simply, good news doesn’t catch our attention. Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear.
NYU’s Dr. Marc Siegel, in his book False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear:
Statistically, the industrialized world has never been safer. Many of us are living longer and more uneventfully. Nevertheless, we live in worst-case fear scenarios. Over the past century, we Americans have dramatically reduced our risk in virtually every area of life, resulting in life spans 60 percent longer in 2000 than in 1900. Antibiotics have reduced the likelihood of dying from infections … Public health measures dictate standards for drinkable water and breathable air. Our garbage is removed quickly. We live in temperature-controlled, disease-controlled lives. And yet, we worry more than ever before. The natural dangers are no longer there, but the response mechanisms are still in place, and now they are turned on much of the time. We implode, turning our adaptive fear mechanism into a maladaptive panicked response.