Believing is more than seeing

It seems like every time I turn on the television, log-on to social media or check a news application on my phone, there is another breaking news story about something violent that has happened at home or overseas.

As someone who plans to have a career in journalism, I am well versed with the practice of, “if it bleeds, it leads,” used by news media.

But, to the average American, these images of violence create a skewed picture of the world that is reinforced every time a news outlet runs a story containing violent-content.

Because of this, many feel that the world is more dangerous than it actually is.

A Gallup poll published in 2015, showed that 70 percent of Americans believe that the crime rate is higher than it was the year before. This has been the trend since the company started giving the violence perception poll in 1989.

wzvtbhtlxkgekbwdjg_fwwThe poll showed that 60 percent of Americans also reported believing that violent crime is a “very serious” problem; while at the same time, only 25 percent reported that they or someone in their household fell victim to a crime, six percent or less, being violent.

Data from The Pew Research Center also indicated that, since the early 2000s, American’s have reported that every year, they feel the crime rate has increased since the year prior.

These, along with various other sets of data, show that the reality is that, even though a majority of Americans feel as though the crime rates are increasing, government data shows that the rates have been on a—nearly—constant decline since the early 90.

Having the ability to separate oneself from the “current events” and see the bigger picture, is key to not falling subject to, what the late Media Effect researcher, George Gerbner, called the “Mean World Syndrome.”

Gerbner used this term to describe how violent content in mass media leads viewers to believe that society is much more dangerous than it actually is.  He also concluded that because of this constant exposure, people are primed to think violence is a regular part of life.

Making the effort to use statistics, rather than a heuristic—a shortcut for thinking—to develop one’s world-view is also essential, according to psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

Tversky and Kahneman explained the reason behind the gap between the public’s perceptions of violent crime and reality, to be due to something they coined an “availability heuristic.”

Similar to Gerbner, Tversky and Kahneman stated that if someone regularly engages in media that displays violent content, they are likely to assume that the world parallels this.

With the news being easily accessible through multiple mediums, and in light of the recent terrorist attacks and shootings, it is easy to see why many American’s are living in fear.

Although the media portrays society to be increasingly violent, it is important to recognize that various data, like that from ourworldindata.org, shows that the reality is just the opposite.

It is actually the safest time to be alive in human history.

 

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