It’s all bad news this week, I’m afraid. Literally. Not only does it look bad and sound bad, but it also has bad effects on you. It’s all-round baaaaaaaaad. First of all — and you’re not going to be hugely surprised by this — the Daily Mail thinks that a leisure activity engaged in by millions of people every day is dangerous. To wit: watching television makes you fat. But what is breathtakingly shocking (or, more accurately, mildly distracting) is the reason why. Apparently, watching bad news on television makes you increase your food intake by a whopping 40%.
It’s just as well that websites like the Daily Mail focus solely on reporting good news. I mean, just today the site led with the following three glowingly optimistic pieces:
- “Victoria’s Secret worker scarred for life when niqab-wearing attacker threw acid in her face as she walked home from shop”
- “Man lay dead in his flat for TWO YEARS after cleaners turned up to clear his home”
- “Man in his 20s stabbed in court by masked gang when he got stuck in revolving door as he tried to flee armed youths”
Yes, all good stuff there. Makes you just feel better about life.
The news story relates to a paper recently accepted for publication in the scientific journal Psychological Science. The authors have a theory that, for evolutionary reasons, bad news makes us perceive a general scarcity of resources and so leaves us feeling tense and depressed. Apparently, in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness we developed alarm reactions to watching bad news on television (which is convincing, because I do remember Fled Flintstone having a TV).
Of course, being scientists, they corroborated their theory with data. In all, they conducted three small-scale studies. In the first, they watched a group of volunteers to see how many M&Ms they ate when sitting near posters containing words like “struggle” and “adversity” (I know you probably think I’m being satirical, but I’m afraid that was the method). Such negative framing led volunteers to eat an average of 19 M&Ms instead of 14. From this, the Daily Mail somehow concluded that “[TV] viewers increase food intake by 40% when bombarded by gloomy bulletins”.
The other two studies involved questions about food — rather than actual, you know, food. And none of the studies involved television.
I don’t know, but I think the Daily Mail’s line on this research might be a little tenuous.
This all reminds me of the time the Daily Mail warned us that sitting down is more dangerous than smoking. (I imagine that chairs are now banned from the Daily Mail offices. And anyone who even accidentally allows their backside to touch a radiator has to undergo rehabilitation.)
But to be on the safe side, what would the solution to all of this be? Well obviously, keep away from bad things. Bad things are bad for you.
But then, so are good things. Because, according to the Independent, looking at pictures — mere pictures — of “cute animals” makes you violent. Remember a few weeks ago that picture of a white rat hugging a mini-teddy bear was doing the rounds online? What you probably didn’t realise was that all the folks who saw it went on killing sprees afterwards.
This story referred to a study presented by two students at a conference in New Orleans, which was reported, anecdotally, on the churnalism website LiveScience.com (it’s great to see the Indy leaving no stone unturned when tracking down the latest science news). The students found that people exposed to cute animal pictures “popped more bubbles on a sheet of bubble wrap than those watching funny or neutral pictures”.
I mean, really.
I have to go hide now, from the ever-present dangers posed by trivial features of my daily environment. Like posters that mention “adversity”. Otherwise, I might eat an extra five M&Ms.
But it could get even worse than that.
Coz I’ve got bubble wrap. And I ain’t afraid to use it…