Individuals who exhibit problematic news consumption are more likely to have mental and physical ill-being, according to study results published in Health Communication.
Researchers from Texas Tech University recruited 1100 US adults (51.3% women, mean age 40.5 [SD, 17.88] years, 83.4% White, 45.1% Democrat, 34.3% Republican) online to participate in the study. The median education level was college graduate, and household income was $60,000 to $74,999.
Study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about problematic news consumption and physical and mental health. Problematic news was evaluated using 5 dimensions:
- Transportation (ie, forgetting surroundings due to being absorbed by news);
- Preoccupation (ie, having thoughts frequently consumed with news);
- Misregulation (ie, consuming news decreasing anxiety);
- Underregulation (ie, having difficulty disengaging from news); and
- Interference (ie, news consumption disrupting life).
Participants were classified into 4 groups: nonproblematic, minimally problematic, moderately problematic, and severely problematic. Nonproblematic news consumers (28.7%) scored low on all 5 of the news consumption dimensions. Minimally problematic news consumers (27.5%) had mid-level scores in transportation and preoccupation with low scores in the other dimensions. Moderately problematic news consumers (27.3%) had mid-level scores in all dimensions. Severely problematic news consumers (16.5%) had high scores in all dimensions.
Ill-being (F[6,2012], 5.39; P <.001) and mental (F[3,1007], 22.28; P <.001) and physical (F[3,1007], 10.58; P <.001) ill-being differed significantly on the basis of problematic news consumption.
Stratified by group, individuals in the severely problematic group reported more mental and physical ill-being than those in the moderately problematic (both P <.001), minimally problematic (both P <.001), and nonproblematic (both P <.001) groups. Similarly, those in the moderately problematic group reported more mental ill-being than those in the minimally (P <.001) and nonproblematic (P <.001) groups.
A major limitation of this study is the cross-sectional design, which does not allow for causal relationships to be evaluated.
Study authors conclude, “Much is left to learn about problematic news consumption, its individual and societal consequences, and what might be done to help mitigate these consequences. Nevertheless, this study provides an important foundation and helps raise attention to a new way of considering and examining effects of the news. 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.”
McLaughlin B, Gotlieb MR, Mills DJ. Caught in a dangerous world: problematic news consumption and its relationship to mental and physical ill-being. Health Commun. 2022;1-11. doi:10.1080/10410236.2022.2106086