Is the editorial tendency for Reporting Scotland to regularly headline, in the early morning, traumatic, anxiety-inducing, yet statistically insignificant, events, like those above, making a major contribution to generalised anxiety and to levels of clinical depression and anxiety in its audience? Is this motivated by a recognition at senior levels that an anxious electorate is more controllable?
I’m grateful to Cameron Brodie who provided the link to this research in a Wings comment and to TuS Mental Health Correspondent, Contrary, who shared it with me. Cameron’s short comment, based upon but not a quote from the research, which triggered this longer piece here, was:
‘Individual self-determination depends largely on maintaining a positive personal psychology. That’s why the BBC in Scotland makes you want to self-harm. Achieving a sense of positive emotions not only strengthens our cognitive abilities, it improves our ability to cope with change. Once again, this all boils down to the architecture of our brains.’
As always, I feel the need to head off accusations of conspiracy theory and of consequent paranoia. I’m suggesting rather that those who work in the news section of BBC Scotland, know, often unconsciously and running in the grooves of a long-established culture of behavioural and cognitive habits, what to report and how to report it, such that the overall coverage works toward reinforcing often imaginary benefits of the Union and equally imaginary risks in independence. So, we get repeated cases of individual health or personal security trauma rather than the more meaningful wider trends because the former produces, over years, a brain architecture where constitutional change seem dangerous while the latter might make the status quo seem so.
In my earlier writing on this, I’ve tried to support the above notion with evidence. There is admittedly very little and little of that is empirical and thus evidence-based. There is of course likely to be no hard evidence that editorial decision-making at a public service provider or state broadcaster such as the BBC is damaging mental health. Which institution would dare fund such a thing?
This research does not, of course, do that but it does offer clear evidence of the damaging consequences of ‘perceived threat.’ We can implicate BBC News in feeding this sense of threat in its broadcasts because we know that its audience tends to be older and thus more isolated and vulnerable with the former broadcasts playing a large part in construction reality for them. Clearly the authoritative tones of BBC News as it foregrounds tales of murder, of violent crime, of cases of tragic death and illness in hospitals, of apparent failure or delays in the very services they often rely on, overwhelms what little they can garner from their few other sources, to produce a world where depression and anxiety are the predictable outcome and where, constitutional change become contaminated with a sense of danger.
In this peer-reviewed 2010 research study we hear:
‘These coordinated and cascading response tendencies are preserved in modern-day humans having been sculpted over millennia by natural selection to support efficient and appropriate responses to ancestrally recurrent opportunities (e.g., the kindness of others) and threats (e.g., the disdain of others). Various forms of perceived opportunity give rise distinct positive emotions (e.g., joy, interest, contentment/serenity), whereas various forms of perceived threat give rise to distinct negative emotions (e.g., sadness, fear, anger). Although all emotions serve adaptive functions under certain circumstances, negative emotions, in particular, can become a source of dysfunction. To illustrate, the negative emotions of anger and fear each involve neural, cardiovascular, endocrine, and muscular changes, alongside changes in thought and action tendencies patterned from primitive urges to fight or flee. Such negative emotions also often co-occur with dysfunctional social interactions, which can perpetuate psychophysiological reactivity and trigger destructive behavior toward self and others.’
Upward Spirals of Positive Emotions Counter Downward Spirals of Negativity: Insights from the Broaden-and-Build Theory and Affective Neuroscience on The Treatment of Emotion Dysfunctions and Deficits in Psychopathology