News Addiction Linked to Not Only Poor Mental Wellbeing but Physical Health Too

Summary: Those who addictively consume news are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and physical health problems, a new study reports.

Source: Taylor and Francis Group

People with an obsessive urge to constantly check the news are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, as well as physical ill health, finds a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication.

During the last two years we have lived through a series of worrying global events, from the COVID pandemic to Russia invading Ukraine, large-scale protests, mass shootings and devastating wildfires. For many people, reading bad news can make us feel temporarily powerless and distressed.

For others, being exposed to a 24-hour news cycle of continually evolving events can have serious impacts on mental and physical wellbeing – as these new findings, out today, show, with those who have a high-levels of news addiction reporting “significantly greater physical ill-being”.

“Witnessing these events unfold in the news can bring about a constant state of high alert in some people, kicking their surveillance motives into overdrive and making the world seem like a dark and dangerous place,” says Bryan McLaughlin, associate professor of advertising at the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University.

“For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress. But it doesn’t help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.”

To study this phenomenon, known colloquially as news addiction, McLaughlin and his colleagues, Dr Melissa Gotlieb and Dr Devin Mills, analysed data from an online survey of 1,100 US adults.

In the survey, people were asked about the extent to which they agreed with statements like “I become so absorbed in the news that I forget the world around me”, “my mind is frequently occupied with thoughts about the news”, “I find it difficult to stop reading or watching the news”, and “I often do not pay attention at school or work because I am reading or watching the news”.

Respondents were also asked about how often they experienced feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as physical ailments such as fatigue, physical pain, poor concentration, and gastrointestinal issues.

The results revealed that 16.5% of people surveyed showed signs of ‘severely problematic’ news consumption. Such individuals frequently became so immersed and personally invested in news stories that the stories dominated the individual’s waking thoughts, disrupted time with family and friends, made it difficult to focus on school or work, and contributed to restlessness and an inability to sleep.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people with higher levels of problematic news consumption were significantly more likely to experience mental and physical ill-being than those with lower levels, even when controlling for demographics, personality traits, and overall news use.

When asked how frequently survey participants experienced mental health or physical illness symptoms over the past month, results show:

  • 73.6% of those recognized to have severe levels of problematic news consumption reported experiencing mental ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much” – whilst frequent symptoms were only reported by 8% of all other study participants.
  • 61% of those with severe levels of problematic news reported experiencing physical ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much” compared to only 6.1% for all other study participants.

According to McLaughlin, the findings show that there is a need for focused media literacy campaigns to help people develop a healthier relationship with the news.

“While we want people to remain engaged in the news, it is important that they have a healthier relationship with the news,” he says.

“In most cases, treatment for addictions and compulsive behaviors centers on complete cessation of the problematic behavior, as it can be difficult to perform the behavior in moderation.

This show a stack of newspapers
For others, being exposed to a 24-hour news cycle of continually evolving events can have serious impacts on mental and physical wellbeing – as these new findings, out today, show, with those who have a high-levels of news addiction reporting “significantly greater physical ill-being”. Image is in the public domain

“In the case of problematic news consumption, research has shown that individuals may decide to stop, or at least dramatically reduce, their news consumption if they perceive it is having adverse effects on their mental health.

“For example, previous research has shown that individuals who became aware of and concerned about the adverse effects that their constant attention to sensationalized coverage of COVID-19 was having on their mental health reported making the conscious decision to tune out.

“However, not only does tuning out come at the expense of an individual’s access to important information for their health and safety, it also undermines the existence of an informed citizenry, which has implications for maintaining a healthy democracy. This is why a healthy relationship with news consumption is an ideal situation.”

In addition, the study also calls out the need for a wider discussion about how the news industry may be fuelling the problem.

“The economic pressures facing outlets, coupled with technological advances and the 24- hour news cycle have encouraged journalists to focus on selecting “newsworthy” stories that will grab news consumers’ attention,” says McLaughlin.

“However, for certain types of people, the conflict and drama that characterize newsworthy stories not only grab their attention and draw them in, but also can lead to a maladaptive relationship with the news. Thus, the results of our study emphasise that the commercial pressures that news media face are not just harmful to the goal of maintaining a healthy democracy, they also may be harmful to individuals’ health.”

Limitations of this study include reliance on a data collected at one point in time, where the authors could not establish the exact relationship between problematic news consumption and mental and physical ill-being.

About this psychology research news

Author: Simon Wesson
Source: Taylor and Francis Group
Contact: Simon Wesson – Taylor and Francis Group
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being” by Bryan McLaughlin et al. Health Communications


Abstract

Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being

This study adds to the growing body of literature on problematic media behavior by introducing and explicating the concept of problematic news consumption, which we define as involving transportation, preoccupation, misregulation, underregulation, and interference.

Using survey data from a national sample of U.S. adults, we examine the factor structure of a problematic news consumption measure, the existence of latent classes derived from the expected factors, and differences in mental and physical health across the emerging classes.

Results show support for the proposed factor structure as well as the existence of four latent classes, which appear to be stratified according to severity of problematic news consumption.

Results also show greater mental and physical ill-being among those with higher levels of problematic news consumption compared to those with lower levels, even after controlling for demographics, personality traits, and overall news use.

Implications for designing effective media literacy campaigns to raise awareness of the potential for news consumption to develop into a problematic behavior as well as the development of intervention strategies are discussed.

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  1. This is really surprising, because most other kinds of addictions are usually really healthy. I wonder why this one specific addiction is so remarkably unique.

  2. Ita all a government conspiracy to keep the population down and us in rotten shape, I mean come on we’re all worth more more the the big pharma machine if we’re sick & dying & on pharmaceuticals… Most my black people feel the same way.

  3. Sometimes, even when depressed, personally I still watch the news just to reaffirm that my state of mind or problems are indeed relative, compared to the state of the earth and my problems pale to insignificance. Sometimes it’s not the case that this helps but for the most part it is so.
    As for the world being a cruel, violent and horrible place it still is even when one doesn’t watch the news. I am continually astounded at the lack of evolution or development at this stage of humankind’s time in history. It is astonishing how backward and retrogressive evolution appears to manifest in the human species. In short they have not progressed far as a whole since alighting from the trees. As opposed to making my depression worse, sometimes it can make one feel a little more light hearted at the irony and stupidity of the human race and can get a laugh put of it. Tragic but amusing. However if the news is an addictive force for some people to the point of making them ill, maybe best for them to avoid it

  4. They got more nuance than ‘depressive’ out of the news but it doesn’t seem they have the ‘longitudinal’ bit where people read WSJ and still need an unparticular revolution or NY Times and produce unsaleable canvas paintings v. Fox and a gullible following or Scripps and other compulsions. Open Access for those celebrating that.

  5. I could have told anyone this. It needs no study. It’s totally obvious. News is depressing because a high percentage of News is beyond bad, so if someone feels compelled to watch or read news it will have a negative impact on mental health. I suffer from depression and avoid bad news when I need to.

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