News addiction” leads to poor mental and physical health

September 10, 2022
“News addiction” leads to poor mental and physical health

Exposure to a depressing and continually-evolving news cycle of global events can have serious impacts on mental and physical wellbeing, as researchers from the UK-based Taylor and Francis Group found out. “News addiction” refers to the obsessive urge to constantly check the news – people who have a high levels of news addiction were reported to suffer from stress and anxiety, as well as fatigue, physical pain, and gastrointestinal issues.

“Witnessing [news events] unfold 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,” said Bryan McLaughlin, Associate Professor of Advertising at the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University.

“For these people, 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.”

In studying news addiction in over 1,000 US adults, McLaughlin and his colleagues found that 16.5% showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption: these adults frequently became immersed and personally invested in news stories such that the stories dominated their 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.

On experiencing mental or physical illness symptoms as a result of severe levels of problematic news addiction, 73.6% reported experiencing mental ill-health symptoms very often, whilst frequent symptoms were only reported by 8% of all other study participants.

In addition, 61% of those with severe levels of problematic news reported experiencing frequent physical ill-health, compared to only 6.1% for all other study participants.

McLaughlin spoke about the current maladaptive relationship people have with the news, and pressed on a need for focused media literacy campaigns to help people develop a healthier relationship with the news instead.

“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 [and make] the conscious decision to tune out,” McLaughlin said.

“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.”

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Category: Education, Features

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