Once upon a time, people reserved loud outbursts for very special occasions.
In each case, the raised voice with its guttural message alerted anyone within earshot that an emergency required their immediate attention. Or in the case of warfare, now was the time to kill or be killed.
Polite company abhors a loud voice, such breech of manners considered the province only of drunkards, boors, or madmen. Like the boy crying wolf, making a loud noise with our voice serves us when normal communication fails, calls attention, and provokes a fight or flight response in those who hear it.
We respond to shouting both physically and emotionally as adrenalin dumps into our system. Our hands may form fists, our jaw clenches, our heart rate accelerates. Psychological studies have shown the negative impact of shouting:
Yelling activates structures in the limbic system that regulate “fight or flight” reactions. Repeated activation to these areas tells the brain that their environment is not safe, thus the interconnecting neurons in these areas must remain intact. …At work, overreacting creates a perceived unsafe environment and can also put others into constant fight or flight mode.
Countless studies and publications warn against shouting at children, spouses, or employees. But why? Here’s an explanation.
The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person — or of an organization. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function, which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving; in other words, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain’s internal resources are taken away from them.
Most of us realize that shouting is bad form. We also recognize that we don’t like to be the target of shouts. Then why do some of us tolerate shouting on a daily basis?
In the mid-1980s, a certain conservative radio announcer discovered that shouting on air provoked a rewarding response – people listened. Rush Limbaugh had been fired from previous radio jobs but finally found his niche after Congress repealed the Fairness Doctrine.
In 1984, Limbaugh returned to radio as a talk show host at KFBK in Sacramento… The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine—which had required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast—by the FCC in 1987 meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. … Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from…liberal media domination.”
It’s no surprise that the media had become, in some views, rife with so-called liberal viewpoints. Journalists are exposed to higher education before qualifying for a media job. Not only do journalists study literature, history, and political science which paint the broad picture of human suffering, but also upon being hired to a media job, journalists are immediately thrust onto the front lines of all the world’s social ills—crime, disease, prejudice, and injustice among them. Through these experiences, many journalists embrace a point of view that can be described as ‘liberal’ – by definition, “tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others” and “concerned with general cultural matters and broadening of the mind.”
Professional journalists and the media outlets where they work must adhere to professional standards.
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.
Not so with Rush Limbaugh, a college dropout. His admitted objective in radio is to sway people to a conservative point of view. People not only listened to his bombastic style but became agitated as if whatever was said in this shouting voice carried greater meaning, more importance, and undoubtedly revealed a threat heretofore unnoticed. His attention-grabbing delivery gained purchase among a vulnerable demographic.
The lesson quickly spread to other media, most notably to FOX News who came on air in 1996 with commentators who never miss an opportunity to shout. Few of these ‘announcers’ are professional journalists. As noted in a 2017 report in the Washington Post,
With the departure of credible centrist and conservative voices and professional journalists (e.g. Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren, George Will, Major Garrett), the alternative-reality programming seen in the Fox evening and afternoon lineup and on “Fox & Friends” now overwhelms the rest of the operation.
Neither Sean Hannity nor Glenn Beck, both popular FOX News commentators, completed college and are not journalists. Yet their audiences believe these men are delivering unbiased news.
The success of both outlets in hooking rapt viewers didn’t go without notice among other media. Some CNN reporters stepped up to the plate and began shouting as well, in particular Wolf Blitzer who doesn’t seem capable of speaking normally. Thus the current political and social crisis was born.
The Rush Limbaughs of the world use shouting not to intimidate listeners as might a parent, spouse, or employer, but to signal alarm. LISTEN TO ME! I’VE GOT NEWS! Whatever the content of such commentary, it’s not simply information that we can take or leave or interpret in comparison to equal but opposing information. This is life or death information. Dangerous. The context screams EMERGENCY!
Not only are listeners held captive by the threat of such emergencies, they suffer physical and emotional damage that makes them vulnerable to manipulation.
Researchers have long known about the infectious nature of stress… Studies have shown that there is “crossover” stress from one spouse to the other, between coworkers, and “spill over” from the work domain to home. The stress contagion effect, as it’s known, spreads anxiety like a virus. Our mirror neurons help suck us into the emotional eruptions of others. …Emotions are highly contagious, as film directors and fear-mongering propagandists know, especially negative emotions.
Held captive by unconscious physical and emotional response to shouting newscasters, listeners become victims of a kind of Stockholm syndrome, “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” An urgent need to hear what the shouters say takes over normal intellectual function. There’s an emergency and they’re telling us about it. We have to listen.
No one questions that regular shouting at a spouse is a form of domestic abuse, or that shouting repeatedly at children is a form of child abuse. So why do so many people not question the harmful impact of loud-mouthed media personalities?
What could be a more perfect explanation for the masses of people walking around seemingly without the ability to think rationally about matters of critical importance in our nation’s politics? While liberals may gravitate to quietly spoken news of the day uttered by a calm commentator on the PBS NewsHour, many conservatives seem to require regular doses of shouting. There’s probably a clear connection between being shouted at with its rush of body chemistry and the acceptance of a point of view that seems to solve the problem just described in those shouts.
What any reasoning adult should know is that shouting is a theatrical tactic used to capture the attention of listeners/viewers, a form of bullying meant to hold its beleaguered audience. Sportscasters shout in order to build visceral excitement for whatever game they’re announcing. But why would we want the adrenaline rush of sports when we’re hearing news?
Isn’t ‘news’ at its most basic concept a source of information about important events around the world? About electing those who will steer our nation through challenging times? Do we really want to unquestionably accept a shouter’s point of view on such critical topics?
Limbaugh, FOX and other conservative shouters groom their audiences by occasionally lowering their voices, providing strokes to calm those just incited by the shouts. “Here, here,” the shouters say. “It’s not so bad. Here’s how to think about this.” And then the prescription is delivered, a calming pill of hate and prejudice, of unthinking narrow-mindedness convinced that any further information is not needed. The audience becomes like other sufferers of Stockholm syndrome, eager to defend their captors, afraid to turn away from the source of their agitation.
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu