The past couple of years seems to have brought a series of unfortunate global events, including a pandemic, large-scale protests, mass shootings, devastating wildfires, and the break of a new war. For most people, reading news about these traumatizing events can bring constant fear and anxiety and temporary feelings of hopelessness and distress. For others, being constantly bombarded with a 24-hour news cycle of constantly escalating events can seriously impact their mental and physical well-being, similar to what a new study suggests.
The recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication focused on this case by explaining the concept of problematic news consumption and examining its relationship to mental and physical health outcomes. To study this phenomenon, commonly referred to as news addiction, the researchers drew from the body of research on problematic behaviors to identify the dimensions of problematic news consumption. They then analyzed data from an online survey of 1,100 US adults to consider the differences in mental and physical health across the respondents. This article will give you a comprehensive summary of the said study.
Much research on problematic media behaviors appropriately categorizes these behaviors based on the wide array of existing mental disorders included in the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States (DSM-5).
Hence, problematic media behaviors are commonly identified as forms of addiction, disordered behaviors, uncontrollable behaviors, compulsive behaviors, and largely as problematic behaviors.
In the context of problematic news consumption, the researchers labeled problematic news consumption as “a cycle of being absorbed in news content, compulsively checking the news, and experiencing interference with daily life.”
Several studies established that problematic media behavior is negatively related to health outcomes. Some prevalent examples include online games and smartphone addiction, all related to heightened anxiety, stress, and depression.
Similarly, the researchers of the new study assumed problematic news consumption negatively affects mental and physical health. Problematic news consumption can be particularly harmful to mental health as news commonly focuses on negative and threatening issues and events such as disasters, mass shootings, and wars. The more disastrous the event is, the more attention it gets.
Concerning this, the researchers suggested that witnessing these events happen in the news can result in a constant feeling of high alert in some people, initiating their surveillance motives and vigilance into overdrive and making the world seem dark and unsafe.
However, instead of avoiding the news, people who are triggered by devastating and disastrous news become more drawn and obsessed with constantly checking for updates to lessen their emotional distress. But, this further negatively impacts their mental health, eventually affecting certain aspects of their life.
After establishing a concept for problematic news consumption and developing a structure for its measurement, the researchers conducted an online survey of 1,100 US adults. The analysis of the responses lead to the following findings:
According to the study, those with severe problematic news consumption become constantly immersed and personally invested in news stories that eventually dominate the person’s usual thoughts, disrupt time with family and friends, create difficulty focusing on school or work, and contribute to restlessness and inability to sleep.
The lead author of the research states that the findings demonstrate a need for media literacy campaigns focused on helping people develop a healthier relationship with the news.
Apart from creating effective campaigns and interventions on problematic news consumption, there is also a need for a larger discussion of the ethical concerns about the news values that drive problematic news consumption.
McLaughlin, B., Gotlieb, M. R., & Mills, D. J. (2022). Caught in a dangerous world: Problematic news consumption and its relationship to mental and physical ill-being. Health Communication, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2022.2106086