The study found that people who spent their time scrolling through bad news were significantly more likely to suffer poor mental health
"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." Bryan McLaughlin, researcher, Texas Tech University and lead author of the study
Doomscrolling, the name for the compulsive urge to read through news sites full of bad news, can lead to poor mental and physical health outcomes, a study has found.
The researchers, based at Texas Tech University, found that the habit of doomscrolling had increased since the start of the pandemic.
The study, which was published in the journal Health Communication, surveyed 1,100 people and found that 16.5% showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption, which had led to greater levels of stress, anxiety and poor health.
This group of respondents scored highly on five dimensions listed by the researchers: becoming absorbed in news content; being preoccupied with thoughts about the news; attempting to reduce anxiety by consuming more news; finding it difficult to avoid the news; and having news consumption interfere in their daily life.
When the researchers controlled for demographics, personality traits and overall news use, those with higher levels of problematic news consumption were “significantly more likely” to experience poor mental and physical health. In this group, 74% reported experiencing mental health problems and 61% reported physical problems compared to 8% and 6.1% of all other study participants.
About 27.3% of those surveyed reported “moderately problematic” levels of news consumption, 27.5% were minimally impacted and 28.7% experienced no problems.
Bryan McLaughlin, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Texas Tech University, said the 24-hour-news cycle could bring about a “constant state of high alert” in some people and make the world seem like a “dark and dangerous place”.
“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,” he said.
“But it doesn’t help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.”
The researchers had anticipated that a sizeable portion would “show signs of problematic news consumption,” McLaughlin said. “However, we were surprised to find that 17% of study participants suffer from the most severe level.” It suggested, he added, that “the problem may be more widespread than we expected. A lot of people appear to be experiencing significant amounts of anxiety and stress due to their news consumption habits.”
This research suggests that technology can have an adverse effect on mental health – and even on physical health – as well as potential benefits. As always, there is a question of correlation and causation: does doomscrolling make people depressed and anxious, or are people who are already depressed and anxious more likely to doomscroll? Or is there, as the authors suggest, a “vicious cycle” in which doomscrolling creates a mental state that reinforces the urge to doomscroll? Now that almost everyone carries a smartphone, it’s increasingly important that more research is carried out to find out who is most susceptible to mental health problems as a result of doomscrolling and identify the interventions that can break the cycle.