Watching the news seems like it should be good for us. We are learning about the world, staying informed, and enjoying moderately good-looking talking heads. It turns out that watching negative TV news (good luck finding positive) has been associated with increased anxiety, exasperating depression, increased subsequent stress reactivity, and higher levels of stress hormones.
Though misfortune and doom have always been a part of the human condition, the modern 24-hour news cycle allows us to saturate ourselves in tragedy in a way never before possible. Social scientists have begun to study the potential effects of this constant infusion of bad news and have discovered that modern media can be particularly harmful for women. In one study investigating media and gender participants were asked to read either negative or neutral news stories and then do a subsequent stressful task (which included a mock job interview and math test).
The women who had read the negative news stories were more likely to have increased stress hormone levels during the subsequent tasks and to report being stressed out by the experience. Women also had greater recall of the negative news stories and secreted more cortisol upon recalling these sad stories. Scientists speculate that because women are hardwired to protect their offspring, their brains may interpret negative news stories as threatening, which can set off a cascading stress response. Men were not impacted by the negative news and recalled less of them.
Other studies have shown that TV news is no good for either gender. People who watched the most coverage of the 9-11 attacks were twice as likely to experience symptoms of possible PTSD, compared to those who watched the least. In another study of already depressed people, watching the news was shown to exasperate low moods (while other forms of TV did not). It only took 15 minutes of TV news to increase the anxiety and reduce to positive affect of college students. The group that experienced 15 minutes of mindfulness training were able to restore their moods, while the control group stayed grumpy.
Are you causing yourself unnecessary stress by absent-mindedly switching on the radio news while driving or watching TV news as you do your cardio at the gym? Try a few days without your daily news fix and notice if you don't feel a bit better about yourself and the friendliness and hopefulness of our little planet. You'll be less stressed and you'll be able to give more time and energy to focusing on improving your own life. You'll free up time for other, more enjoyable activities and you'll give your brain and body a break from the nonstop tragedy. The good news is that, for all you moody piñatas out there, feeling better might just be a channel-change away.
Marin, M.-F., Morin-Major, K.-J., Schramek, T., Beaupré, A., Perna, A., Juster, R.-P., Lupien, S. (2012) There Is No News Like Bad News: Women are more remembering and stress reactive after reading real negative news than men. PLOS ONE, Vol. 7(10), Accessed October 10, 2012
Ahern, J., Galea, S., Resnick, H., Vlahov, D. (2004) Television Images and Probable Post-traumatic Stress Disorder After September 11. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol 192(2), 212–226.