It's the time of year when people are thinking about resolutions and taking better care of themselves by eating better, exercising more, maintaining better work life balance and so forth. One other thing you may want to consider is what you feed your brain via the media.
We are bombarded with digital information all day long. In previous posts, I have already touched on the negative impacts of information overload in terms of our effectiveness. When our attentional capacity becomes depleted, this negatively impacts our mood and behaviours. And, even when we are very interested in it and the information is welcomed and helpful to us, we can become cranky and irritable and generally difficult. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, a lot of what we see, hear and read about is also very violent and destructive. Some of this is in the name of entertainment, sadly some of it is news.
From the RPM (Reasonable Person Model, see previous posts) perspective of model-building, media violence - as argued by the Kaplans - contributes to "false and destructive cognitive maps" which are not benign, but change the way we view the world. As noted in the 2000 Congressional Public Health Summit's "Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children," the negative consequences for children include raising the likelihood that they will be more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts, possess an intensified fear of violence, and be emotional desensitized towards violence in real life. This can decrease the likelihood that a child will, for instance, take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs.
As the authors of the Joint Statement note, "Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place." But it is not just children's brains which are affected by the prevalence of violence in the entertainment industry. Our grown up brains are similarly vulnerable to what we feed them. And it's not just the movies we watch that we have to be concerned about. One only has to turn on the news to see real life examples of violence dominating the headlines and captivating viewers.
All of this is not without a further cost. Ever felt, "What can one person do?" The RPM also helps us understand the effect that these false perceptions have on our motivations. As a species, we dislike feeling helpless and are less likely to try to help -whether it is in response to human atrocity toward each other or toward the earth that sustains us - if we are see the problem as too big. This leaves us feeling overwhelmed and less likely to even try.
As the great poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry lamented, "It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerous reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits."
So, in terms of New Years resolutions, this is something else to consider.