Looking at social media the past days made me realize there are are two teams on the rise; 1. People who sympathize with France and show full support by doing whatever they can and 2. The others who claim there is much more going on in the world and Paris is just one of many horrors so the amount of support we show for France is not justified. To the people of team #2, because that’s the only group I want to address right now, there is a clear reason for why people are ignoring the other happenings in the world, and it is because of the following phenomenon; The disruption of peace.
Countries such as Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan have been at war since I was born and the media has been reporting extensively on it. Our minds become desensitized by the news from those areas because there is always death and destruction going on. People don’t do this on purpose, it’s a biological side effect. There has never been peace or safety in those aforementioned countries, but when something happens in “The West” where everything is supposed to be safe and peaceful, people become shocked because the peace is disrupted.
News is created to make us feel anxiety because that’s stuff we read, shocking, horrific news. Try to think of a situation you dread, maybe you have claustrophobia or a fear of heights, whenever you are in that situation you feel fear and anxiety and you already dread the situation beforehand, even when thinking about it. We started out being shocked by the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, operations such as Desert Storm was prayed about across the globe. But the war never seemed to end, and just like treatment of a fear, desensitization occurs. As psychology explains: With sufficient repetition through practice, the imagined event loses its anxiety-provoking power. “At the end of training, when you actually face the real event, you will find that it too, just like the imagined event, has lost its power to make you anxious”.
This is exactly what happens when we keep reading about the Middle East, we don’t feel any surprise or anxiety anymore, because it happens every few days. It’s sad of course, but it doesn’t change the facts that our brains turn off the emotion we should be feeling with it. However, when suddenly a whole new location is in danger, and especially close to home, people assign a lot of emotion to this new situation. They recall the danger they felt when the Americans and Brits and French invaded Afghanistan and now suddenly have that feeling for something at their back door.
Everything happening right now can be traced back to a paper I wrote a few months ago on Emotional Response Intensity (ERI). This theory was based on personal relationships and the emotions that result from that occurrence, but let’s now apply it to what is happening in Beirut and France at the same time. I first noticed that “the more time is spent with an individual, the more knowledge is gained on a more personal level. This in turn, generates feelings of habit, getting accustomed to the behavior of that individual, it becomes taken for granted. Those people that communicate daily with each other, or are remembered in a specific way, get stuck in a specific pattern. This pattern is created within our own minds, and prepare us for the behavior by that individual.” Which we can clearly combine with France and Afghanistan in this example, we know from locations such as Afghanistan that it is a hazardous location where often bombings and death occur due to various militia groups such as IS or Taliban, and even Al Qaida. We start to become accustomed to the behavior of Afghanistan, so when a bombing happens we give it two seconds of attention and become desensitized. However, from a country such as France where normally we expect it to be safe and suddenly read about or see a bombing happen, it breaks the pattern of permanent peace and our anxiety levels skyrocket. This also links back to the expectancy violation (Burgoon, 1976), as we do not ‘expect’ France to ever be in such a situation as Afghanistan or Beirut, it comes as a completely new experience in our minds.
The whole situation is not that people ignore what is happening in other countries, but right now, the emotional value they attach to this new situation is new to the brain, to emotion and memory, and therefore higher on the priority list. I think it’s fine people post what else is happening in the world, but respect how the human body works and don’t condemn the French supporters by claiming they are are emotionless and biased sheep because they are not.