A new study has found that people who obsessively check news are more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety, besides physical ailments such as fatigue and body pain, among other health issues. The new findings published in peer-reviewed journal Health Communication show that those with high levels of news addiction, being exposed to a 24-hour news cycle of events evolving continually, report “significantly greater” mental and physical ill-being.
The study conducted by Bryan McLaughlin, associate professor of advertising at the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, along with colleagues Melissa R. Gotlieb and Devin J. Mills analysed data from an online survey of 1,100 US adults who were asked about the extent to which they agreed with certain statements regarding consumption of news. The statements included “I become so absorbed in the news that I forget the world around me”, “I find it difficult to stop reading or watching the news”, “my mind is frequently occupied with thoughts about the news”, and “I often do not pay attention at school or work because I am reading or watching the news”.
Amid the Covid pandemic, which has consumed the last more than two years now, the world witnessed several other worrying events too, such as violent protests, devastating natural calamities, mass shootings and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“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,” McLaughlin said in a statement, adding: “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.”
It, however, doesn’t help, he said. “…the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.”
During the survey, respondents were asked how often they experienced stress and anxiety, besides physical ailments such as fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, poor concentration, and body pain.
The results showed 16.5% of the people displayed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption. According to the study, the individuals often became personally invested in news, so much so that the stories dominated their thoughts, interfering with their time with loved ones and resulting in restlessness, sleep issues, and poor concentration on studies or work.
People with higher levels of “problematic” news consumption were even more likely to experience mental and physical ill-being.
Must Have Healthier Relationship With News: Study Author
During the survey, the respondents were asked how frequently they experienced symptoms of mental or physical illness over the past month. According to their response, 73.6% of those found to have severe levels of problematic news consumption reported mental ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much”. Only 8% of all other study participants reported frequent symptoms.
Sixty one percent of those with severe levels of problematic news consumption reported experiencing physical ill-health “quite a bit” or “very much”, compared to only 6.1% by other participants.
McLaughlin said the findings stress the need for focused media literacy campaigns. “While we want people to remain engaged in the news, it is important that they have a healthier relationship with the news.”
He said the treatment for any kind of addiction or compulsive behaviour centres on complete cessation of the problematic behaviour, and this has shown to be working in the case of problematic news consumption too, which comes at an expense.
“…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.”
As far as limitations of this study are concerned, the authors relied on data collected at one point in time, and “causal relationship between problematic news consumption and mental and physical ill-being”, the study report pointed out.
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