Better Ways of Consuming News Media

July 27, 2020

Louis Tay

Did you know that reading or watching too much news can negatively impact your well-being?

Experimental research shows that participants watching a random newscast had increased anxiety and mood disturbance. Why is the case? 

The news media leverages our negativity bias to catch our attention. In our evolutionary history, paying attention to bad and dangerous threats helped our survival. Negativity bias is hardwired from infancy -- we pay attention to and remember negative events and information more than positive ones. Surprisingly, negativity bias is so deep-seated that we believe that negatively framed statements are more truthful than positively framed statements!

When watching television news, we tend to catastrophize risks. The increased viewing of local television news is associated with increased perceptions of risk and fear of crime. This similarly applies to terrorism-related news where perceived risk of terrorism is increased. Moreover, viewing negative television news leads people even to catastrophize personal worries that are unrelated to the news content. 

Considering this, our constant engagement with the news can be particularly harmful to well-being during challenging times. 

With regard to COVID-related news, the World Health Organization (WHO) states:

“Minimize watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19 that causes you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information only from trusted sources and mainly so that you can take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day, once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried. Get the facts; not rumours and misinformation. Gather information at regular intervals from the WHO website and local health authority platforms in order to help you distinguish facts from rumours. Facts can help to minimize fears.” 

So - what are some things we can do?

  • As suggested by WHO: focus on specific times to gather news; drill into the facts rather than give in to fear
  • After watching the news, research points to the importance of relaxation rather than distraction (e.g., watching something else)
  • Research also shows that reading newspapers rather than watching the news is associated with less adverse effects
  • Be mindful of focusing on positive events apart from negative ones

I hope you do not come away with a sense that we should avoid bad news to maintain a bubble of blissful happiness. Instead, I hope we can all engage with the ongoings of our world. To achieve this, we need to maintain our personal well-being and not be overwhelmed by all that is going on.


Be well,

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Check back each week for his wellness tip of the week!

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