Did you know that emotions are what shape our world view and they have a greater influence over what we believe than facts?

Let’s talk about brains a little bit to try to understand what is happening when our emotions are triggered by reading headlines or seeing memes and social media posts. I know not everyone chooses to learn about cognitive science over watching reality TV, so I’ll try to keep this interesting.

Let’s begin with a little brain warm-up!

The reason our brain makes these mistakes is that it is trying to anticipate and gather information for you, which is something that in caveman times was necessary for survival. If the moving animal in your peripheral vision was a lion and not a deer, the brain didn’t want to waste time and risk being a lion’s dinner, so it came to a quick conclusion. It’s better to be wrong but alive and slightly embarrassed after running from a harmless deer, right?

Thinking about just these four instincts, I’m sure you can think of many ways they helped protect our ancestors. I’m sure you can also think about many ways they no longer help us, and may even get in the way a bit.

What does this have to do with the media?

We can look at how these instincts play into how the various forms of media try to get our attention, sell us stories, get clicks, get subscribers, and make money.

Something all of these instincts do is generate a picture in your mind. It doesn’t always matter what the words say, what matters is the visualization and images they provoke. Most of these instincts triggered in the media build upon and reinforce an Us -vs.- Them mentality.

The visuals that these messages incite in us are part of what block our ability to be rational and think clearly.

Are you able to catch yourself before you react? 

What types of things catch your attention and draw you in?

Have you ever reacted or responded poorly to information? 

Is there a specific platform that makes it easier or harder for you to think critically?

Do any of these instincts push you to share the things with others before confirming?

Is there a common emotion you find yourself feeling when on social media, online, or when watching the news?


Remember, as former senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated, “We are entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts.”

Hopefully, you found this interesting and helpful. If you are interested in learning more, Factfullness by Hans Rosling is a fascinating read!