Are the brains of humans wired for bad news?

“The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism designed to give priority to bad news”
Daniel Kahneman

Yesterday’s reaction by pundits to an astonishing surge in South African consumer confidence got me hauling out a well-thumbed copy of Daniel Kahneman’s marvellous book “Thinking, fast and slow.” And sure enough, there lay the answer.

In 36 years of polling, never before has the Bureau for Economic Research’s consumer confidence index risen so fast as during the first three months of 2018. And never in its long history has it hit as high a level.

Yet instead of celebrating SA’s national elevation of emotions, “experts” are instead urging us to treat the data as a temporary blip. It’s almost as though those determined to rain on SA’s parade want to push the economy back into another lost decade – even before it has emerged.

But there’s the answer on page 301 of Kahneman’s classic: “The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism designed to give priority to bad news. No comparably rapid mechanism for recognising goodness has been detected.” So ignore the gloomy ones. And forgive them. They just can’t help themselves.

Alec Hogg