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News Addiction Linked to Poor Mental and Physical Health, Study Finds

16.5% of respondents are classified as ”having severely problematic news consumption“

“Problematic news consumption” — which experts have likened to addiction — is linked to both poor mental well being as well as physical health, researchers have found.

According to the study, published Wednesday by the journal for Health Communications, results “show greater mental and physical ill-being among those with higher levels of problematic news consumption compared to those with lower levels.”

The study identifies problematic news consumption as “emerging from a constant state of high alert and as being indulged to alleviate emotional distress” with the understanding that media consumption might “bring relief from obsessive thoughts.” Some scholars classify problematic media behaviors and consumption as a form of addiction, while others note that, unlike other forms of addiction, “media addictions” rarely lead to “severe life consequences.”

Problematic news consumption “likely involves becoming absorbed in news stories,” according to the study, and individuals can be transported into news, especially stories containing drama and conflict. However, preoccupation occurs when an individual is still consumed in news story even when consumption has ended and one “continuously worr[ies] about stressful events or imagined futures.”

When news consumption goes mis-regulated or under-regulated, problematic news consumption can arise as a result of failure of self-regulation. Given that “misregulation often occurs as a misguided attempt to regulate short-term affect,” one might indulge in news consumption in the hopes of improving their mood in the immediate future, but there are chances of greater emotional distress in the long-term.

As a result, problematic news consumption may negatively impact or disrupt an individual’s life.

Using data from an online survey of 1,100 people across the country, the study first established that problematic news consumption involves becoming consumed with thoughts about and immersed in the news, “attempting to alleviate feelings of threat by consuming more news, experiencing a loss of control over consumption of the news and experiencing diminished time for and attention to other aspects of one’s life.”

The study found that 16.5% of respondents are classified as “having severely problematic news consumption.”

Analysis of the data shows that “those with higher levels of problematic news consumption are significantly more likely to experience mental and physical ill-being than those with lower levels.”

“Much is left to learn about problematic news consumption, its individual and societal consequences, and what might be done to help mitigate these consequences,” the study concluded. “There is an urgent need for the continued documentation of experiences of those with higher levels of problematic news consumption through both quantitative and qualitative methods.”