“Boycott the news” would be my paraphrase of Buddha’s advice to serious meditators. This is, I contend, good advice since ‘right-intention’ means renunciation from those things that poison your brain including drink, drugs, TV, politics and so on.  

More specifically, Buddha said that monks and serious mediators should not get involved in politics [1] and only talk of the Dharma or keep silent [2].  Elsewhere Buddha outlined that one should not even get involved in talk of worldly things ranging from politics to food [3]. 

Buddha says among the conversations one should avoid are about “kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.”  [3]  In fact, what Buddha said monks and serious mediators should talk about is “modesty, contentment, seclusion, non-entanglement, arousing persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and the knowledge & vision of release.”   [3] 

 Now clearly one piece of advice will not fit every situation but generally right-intention means maximising ones ability to practice concentration and mindfulness and it seems to me that more often than not the news is as detremental to ones mental wellbeing as a crack-pipe or sordid love afair.   After all, in the media bad news far outweighs good news by as much as seventeen negative news reports for every good report (Williams, 2014).  Despite our draw to bad news (see appendix 1) it is actually harmful to our health through stress (Dobelli, 2013) or the nocebo effect (see Appendix 2).  Research has shown that negative news makes people think and talk more about their worries (Graham C.L. Davey, 2012) (Davey*, 1997) and triggers persisting negative psychological effects (Szabo A, 2007). In addition, it offers no explanatory power, is misleading and helps confirm our biases and prejudices (Enny Dasa, 2009) (Network, n.d.) (Xiang, 2007) and makes us passive, kills creativity, increases cognitive errors (McGrail, 1992) and wastes time (Dobelli, 2013).

REFERENCES[1] A Fistful of Sand by Ajaan Suwat Suvaco[2} SN 21.1[3} AN 10.69

Center, B. W. (2013, 09 13). Berkley University. Retrieved from power-negative thinking: http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-mind/mindbody/article/power-negative-thinking 

Davey*, W. M. (1997, 02). The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries. British Journal of Psychology, 88(1), 85-91. 

Dobelli, R. (2013, 04 12). The Guardian. Retrieved from News Is Bad: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli 

Enny Dasa, B. J. (2009). How terrorism news reports increase prejudice against outgroups: A terror management account. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 453–459. 

Graham C.L. Davey, P. (2012, 06 19). the-psychological-effects-tv-news. Retrieved from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-weworry/201206/the-psychological-effects-tv-news 

McGrail, M. A. (1992). Political Psychology. International Society of Political Psychology, 13(4), 613-632. Stafford, T. (2014, 07 29). why-is-all-the-news-bad. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140728-why-is-all-the-news-bad 

Szabo A, H. K. (2007). Negative psychological effects of watching the news on the television: relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them! International Journal of Behaviour, 14(2), 57-62. 

Williams, R. B. (2014, 09 19). why-we-love-bad-news. Retrieved from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201012/ 

APPENDIX ONE (Stafford, 2014) – we like negative news! 

One study by Trussler and Soroka invited participants from their university to come to the lab for “a study of eye tracking”.  The volunteers were first asked to select some stories about politics to read from a news website so that a camera could make some baseline eye-tracking measures. It was important, they were told, that they actually read the articles, so the right measurements could be prepared, but it didn’t matter what they read. After this ‘preparation’ phase, they watched a short video (the main purpose of the experiment as far as the subjects were concerned, but it was in fact just a filler task), and then they answered questions on the kind of political news they would like to read. 

The results of the experiment, as well as the stories that were read most, were somewhat depressing. Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news. 

And yet when asked, these people said they preferred good news. On average, they said that the media was too focussed on negative stories. 

APPENDIX TWO (Center, 2013) – Nocebo effect 

Expectation and belief can be powerful forces in sickness and health. This is the basis of the placebo effect, which occurs when people experience an improvement in symptoms after they take a placebo (a dummy pill or sham treatment). But what if your expectations are negative? That’s when the placebo’s dark twin—the nocebo effect—can come into play. Negative expectations, fears and anxiety can actually make people feel ill.  

The nocebo effect explains why media reports about health risks, however unfounded, can themselves cause some people to experience adverse effects. This was seen in a recent German study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, which looked at “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” a highly questionable condition in which people report experiencing vague symptoms when exposed to low-energy electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by cell phones, power lines, Wi-Fi and appliances.  

The study involved 147 participants, half of whom watched a documentary about the potential harms of EMFs; the other half, the control group, watched an unrelated film. Then they were all fitted with a headband with a mounted antenna that, they were told, was connected to a Wi-Fi router and would “bring the signal as close to your body as possible.” But, in fact, there was no Wi-Fi and no EMF exposure. Still, people who watched the EMF documentary, especially those who rated high on an anxiety scale beforehand, were much more likely to report symptoms such as agitation, loss of concentration and tingling in their limbs and to attribute them to EMFs. Two participants left the study because their symptoms were so severe. Over the years there have been concerns that EMFs may cause cancer, but research results have for the most part been reassuring. EMF hypersensitivity, on the other hand, is without merit. When studied, people who claim to have the condition react similarly to genuine and sham fields.  

It’s hard to avoid the nocebo effect, because everyone is suggestible to some extent, and it occurs unconsciously. It’s important to know about potential health risks, of course, but try to watch out for your negative expectations, particularly if you’re prone to worrying. And beware of sensationalized media reports of new purported health hazards.

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