Human's Fascination With Disasters

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Imagine a Tsunami crashing ashore in Sri Lanka, instantly millions of people are fixated on TV screens around the world. Some people will go on with their day like it did not even happen, some will stay staring at the TV screen, addicted, to what they are seeing. What is now happening to millions of people worldwide is our natural survival mechanism kicking in! Our bodies want to gather as much information as possible to prepare ourselves in case something similar were to happen to us. Without this vital information we will not know that a threat exists until it is too late. The thing is, this natural occurrence in our bodies can lead to extreme fascination with disasters and more. Some people are so fixated with the news that they watch it numerous times a day, every day a week. 

People who are fixated by the news may fall under two categories. People who’s survival mechanism feels at risk and want to be prepared, or people who have lifelong troubles who find it comforting to watch somebody else’s pain and suffering.

Our bodies need to know what is going on around us to survive. They need to be prepared to use that information to stay away from danger. Think of Apes, when an Ape hears a hunter approaching it yells to his family to stay away. This call from an Ape is not very different than a newspaper headline telling us that an airplane carrying many people has crashed.

In other words, most people cannot help but be “addicted” to plane crashes, September 11 terrorist attacks or documentaries on a school shooting. It is our brains thinking, “if this happened to this person it can happen to me, I should continue watching this to gain some new information in case this ever DOES happen!”

I enjoy watching a show on discovery channel every Saturday where a plane crashes and people die, this very well may be linked to my brain wanting to gather information for when I travel (which I love to do).

During my research I found an article about the Y2K bug. This fits perfectly into my speech because there was never any real evidence that it was even going to happen. A lot of people started stockpiling food water and weapons just to discover nothing ever happened. This is also another great example of our survival mechanism wanting to gather information and then prepare.

These day’s when you turn on your TV to see the 6 o’clock news, it seems there are always a couple of stories about terrorism. Terrorism is a huge factor in our fascination with disasters. Because it can happen to almost anyone at any time. Our bodies work around the clock to gather and sort information that may be relevant to our survival. If you see a story on the news about somebody who jumped from a burning building and survived, scientists say that we are 98% more likely to jump from a burning building if that were to ever happen to us.

Most news does not threaten our physical security directly and usually cover stories about people who we will never meet. But we are still fascinated by this. Why? Scientists have been thinking about this for a long time and still have no answer to this question.

A hypothesis called the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis; it is about human development and people’s survival mechanism. It proposes that evolution has caused man to develop the instinct to observe our social environment. The news informs us of changes in our social order, which can sometimes directly impact our individual lives. Scientists have found this hypothesis very difficult to prove. They say that many people are just addicted to the news and that humans do not have this mechanism.

A lot of people who are addicted to the news are addicted for more that one reason. One is the survival mechanism the other is a plain interest in the news, and addiction to controversy, which generates uncertainty and tells us about potential change that needs to be assessed by us, for its level of threat.

The second and perhaps equally important reason people are fascinated with disasters is that we feel a sense of comfort knowing that it is not our story. We feel fortunate that we are not the victims of the occurrence. Watching a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake makes us feel lucky that we are not experiencing it first hand. These experiences tend to put our lives into perspective. All of a sudden, all of the little problems that are part of our daily lives seem trivial in comparison to catastrophic events.

Perhaps it is the sense of gratitude that compels us to act generously toward the victims of the disaster. When people make generous contributions toward disaster relief, are they acting because of compassion for the less fortunate or because of a sense of relief that they themselves are not the victim.

When I was writing my speech I realized that SARS is a great example of our survival mechanisms at work. We once again started to stockpile medication, buying masks and the media THRIVED on this. TV show’s started that covered what would happen if Toronto got infected, posters went up, and people started manufacturing fake pills that they state could cure SARS.

As soon as I finalized this topic I new that I needed to talk about the media. The media knows exactly how to trigger our survival mechanisms and make us watch. Why do you think some TV shows that are about people dying are so popular! Video games that are about disasters are captivating children and teenagers around the world, some in the way that could potentially help us, and some in ways that could lead to harm.

Do any of you have a grandfather or dad who loves to come home and watch the news? There is a theory that says that with age, comes a sense of vulnerability. People who feel vulnerable may watch the news more to gather information in case a problem occurs.


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