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Bad News Is Amplified in Crowds: Can Lead to Hysteria

Serial Sharing of Threat News Can Amplify Bias & Fear

A new investigation helps shed light on how news stories about potential threats become more negative, inaccurate and hysterical when passed from person to person.

Researchers from the University of Warwick, discovered that even drawing the public’s attention to balanced, neutral facts does not calm this hysteria.

“The more people share information, the more negative it becomes, the further it gets from the facts, and the more resistant it becomes to correction,” said psychology professor Dr. Thomas Hills.

Scientists called this the first research to investigate the impact of dread on the social amplification of threat, and to examine the re-exposure of balanced information on the social diffusion of messages.

Given the outcry over “fake news,” the results have important implications for contemporary society. Indeed, given the digital environment, the constant proliferation of news stories (both legitimate and fake), rumors, retweets and messages are now a major factor in many people’s daily lives.

The researchers analyzed 154 participants on social media. They were split into 14 chains of 8 people, with the first person in each chain reading balanced, factual news articles, and writing a message to the next person about the story, the recipient writing a new message for the next person, and so on.

The sixth person in each chain was given the message from the previous person, alongside the original neutral news story.

In every chain, stories about dreaded topics became increasingly more negative, and biased toward panic and fear as it was passed from person to person — and crucially, this effect was not mitigated when the original unbiased facts were reintroduced.

The original neutral information had virtually no effect on reducing people’s increasingly negative outlook.

Said Hill, “Society is an amplifier for risk. This research explains why our world looks increasingly threatening despite consistent reductions in real-world threats.

“It also shows that the more people share information, the further that information gets from the facts and the more resilient it becomes to correction.”

Source: University of Warwick

Serial Sharing of Threat News Can Amplify Bias & Fear

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Serial Sharing of Threat News Can Amplify Bias & Fear. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 9 Jun 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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