Those who constantly check the latest headlines end up with “significantly greater physical ill-being” than those who tune in less often, according to the findings. The team adds that constantly keeping on top of the latest developments can lead to a vicious cycle where people always check for more updates, rather than tuning out after a quick read.
This can start interfering with people’s personal lives, leaving them feeling powerless and distressed about global events including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and climate change.
“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, in a media release.
Study authors found 16.5 percent of participants in their experiment showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption. That meant they often became so immersed and personally invested in news stories that current events dominated their thoughts, disrupted time with family and friends, made it difficult to focus on school or work, and contributed to restlessness an inability to sleep.
“While we want people to remain engaged in the news, it is important that they have a healthier relationship with the news,” McLaughlin continues. “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.”
News addicts were significantly more likely to experience poor physical and mental health than those who were less obsessed with news — even after controlling for demographics, personality traits, and overall news use.
For the study, the team looked at data from an online survey of 1,100 American adults. Researchers asked Americans about the extent to which they agreed with statements such as “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 bowel problems.
Almost three-quarters (73.6%) with severe levels of problematic news consumption experienced mental ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much” compared with just eight percent of all participants overall. The study also found that more than three in five (61%) news addicts experienced physical ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much” compared with just six percent of everyone else.
“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,” the study author adds. “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.”
The researchers say media literacy campaigns are necessary to help people develop a healthier relationship with the news. They also want more discussion about how “the news industry may be fueling 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,” McLaughlin explains.
“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 emphasize 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.”
The findings appear in the journal Health Communication.
South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.