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University of Silesia in Katowice

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Good News Day – interview with Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof.

07.09.2022 - 10:58 update 19.10.2022 - 13:56
Editors: violettakulik

Good News Day is celebrated on 8 September this year. It is a celebration established in 2001 on the initiative of Salon 101 – an intellectual and artistic community. Good News Day is to be an opposition to contemporary trends in the media which are filled with negative and often alarming information that create in the minds of recipients the belief that the world around us is bad and dangerous.

Good and bad news were the topic of our interview with Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Associate Professor whose research interests include psychology of mass media.

Violetta Kulik: Professor, every day the media bombard the public with negative information from Poland and abroad. Why do negative topics sell better and attract attention?

Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof: There are many reasons. We are attracted to what is unusual, which (fortunately) we do not experience in everyday life. Thanks to this, we experience emotions in a safe way: we are a little bit scared, maybe angry, and then breathe a sigh of relief that it does not concern us personally. And, of course, we can compare ourselves with others – we are in a better postion than them, so we feel better as well.

Violetta Kulik: Is it possible to involve the media in shaping a positive image of the world and people?

Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof: It is possible, and it is necessary, as we need positive emotions as well. But these messages must attract our attention, and to do this, they must be exceptional. For example, the information that mr Johnes does not beat his wife will not attract anyone’s attention.

Violetta Kulik: In order to attract people’s attention, media base their information on emotions. Do negative messages take away our sensivity?

Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof: The emotional message has a stronger effect on us. Of course, over time, we get used to even the worst reports on a given topic, such as the war in Ukraine – today we become less and less touched by news about new bombed objects. We call it habituation of the stimulus, which means that we just get used to certain emotions. Because of that, in order to actually move people, the news must be really striking. Some scientists argue that this leads to desensitisation (callousness). But that’s just one of the concepts. Another concept talks about sensitisation – the media draws our attention to certain events, engages us and makes us sympathise so that we start to help. If it were not for the media, we probably would not pay such attention to the suffering of other people and animals. Nor would we start to wonder what happens to each plastic straw we use.

Violetta Kulik: Pandemic, then the war in Ukraine… the ratings of news channels jumped sharply. What is an informational shock?

Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof: That is true, we are surrounded by negative information. There are so many of them that we lose the ability to select what is most important and what is not – this is the informational shock. We act chaotically, we search for all reports on a given topic, even the most negative ones, we absorb them, whoch, in turn, makes us tired and results in turning away from the information in general. We stop looking, we even avoid contact with a given topic. This is due to our defense mechanisms. The media allow us to find out about the situation, pay attention in the face of a threat, and prepare for danger. But when we realise that the threat does not concern us, or, on the contrary, is so large that it surpasses us, the information reaching us does not help us prepare, we just stop looking. We deny emotions that we can’t deal with.

Violetta Kulik: It is said that Polish people tend to complain a lot. As a society, are we more focused on good or bad news?

Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof: Yes, there is a stereotype of a Pole who whines more than smiles. This is obviously a stereotype, although if we look at it culturally, we are probably far from the Americans when it comes to the presented optimism and satisfaction with life. We are looking for bad information, sensation, scandal, we feed on unusual stories from the world of the media. It is believed that the media give us what we expect. However, if the perspective is reversed, maybe it is the media that shape our interests and direct our attention? Positive news also “sells” well, for example regarding scientific discoveries, the successes of medics, people’s dedication or, more down-to-earth, the happy family life of celebrities. Although bad news allows us, thanks to social comparisons, to feel better in our own life, good news also fulfill certain functions. In addition to building the feeling that we live in a safe, predictable and comfortable environment, they also bond us, build a sense of community and pride in belonging to a given community. Let’s look at the national euphoria after each success of our athletes! Or, an example from our university – didn’t we feel better to read that our employee, Miron Lakomy, was only 37 years old when he was conferred a professor title? I am very happy, and even though in comparison with him I present rather poorly, it does not spoil my mood.

Violetta Kulik: Thank you very much for the interview.

dr hab. Patrycja Szostok- Nowacka, prof. UŚ

Patrycja Szostok-Nowacka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof.

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