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Defining problematic news consumption

Too much news can be bad for your health

Reading too much news can be unhealthy. There is a greater mental and physical ill-being among those with higher levels of problematic news consumption compared to those with lower levels, according to a study by three researchers at Texas University, Bryan McLaughlin, Melissa R. Gotlieb and Devin J. Mills, and published online by publishing house Taylor & Francis.

”The last couple of years have brought a seemingly constant flow of disconcerting events. A pandemic. A highly contentious presidential election culminating in an attempted insurrection. Large-scale protests. Mass shootings. Devastating wildfires. Even murder hornets, for good measure.”

The report says for some Americans, witnessing these events unfold in the news might bring about a constant state of high alert, kicking their surveillance motives into overdrive as the world becomes a dark and dangerous place.

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The report argues that 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. What may have begun as an effort to monitor disconcerting events and remain apprised of potential threats develops overtime into a maladaptive relationship with the news.”

”Having a maladaptive relationship with the news differs from being a “news junkie,” which has colloquially and academically been conceptualized as being extremely interested in the news and/or consuming an excessive amount of news. However, this behaviour typically is not considered to be problematic.”

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The report argues it is not the amount of news that one consumes that is problematic so much as the nature in which it is consumed. Although some scholars have acknowledged the potential for news consumption to become problematic, the existing research has not fully considered or explored the concept of problematic news consumption.

”With a 24-hour news cycle that provides constant access to the news, understanding problematic news consumption, including its dimensions, prevalence, and impact on well-being, is critical.”

Increased time spent following the news may be due to captivation with the constant stream of breaking news stories.”

Negative affect following news consumption may be due to emotional distress brought about by disconcerting issues and events, not a dependency that could be the case with gaming, the report says.

”Further, there is some evidence that when individuals stop consuming the news after becoming aware of the adverse effects the news has on their mental health, they begin to feel better, likely due to ending exposure to negative and threatening content, not getting it “out of their system.”

Problematic news consumption is in the report described as a cycle of being absorbed in news content (i.e., issues and events), compulsively checking the news, and experiencing interference with daily life.

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