Category: Adult Anxiety
We live in an era with rapidly increasing options for learning about current events and with journalism practices that often focus on anxiety provoking events. Thus, understanding the relationship of exposure to such news is potentially important for understanding psychological disorder etiology, prevention, and treatment efforts. This study examined the possible role of exposure to news and current events in mental health concurrently and prospectively in a large sample of American adults. Specifically, we surveyed 502 participants (63.7% female; 74.5% White; mean age = 37.3, SD = 12.9) through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), using TurkPrime, an online platform that allows researchers to conduct follow-up studies of participants in prior surveys while linking data without collecting any identifiable data from participants directly. We asked participants to complete questionnaires on the frequency of their exposure to social media and current events news (through various platforms), measures of mental health including depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as related psychological processes three times over a two-month period.
We found several significant interaction effects with regard to our mental health variables. Participants who had higher news exposure and made greater efforts to avoid the news reported the highest levels of depression (β = -.13, t = -2.04, p = .042) and stress (β = -.12, t = -1.99, p = .048), whereas those with lower news exposure and greater news enjoyment had the lowest depression (β = -.15, t = 2.33, p = .020) and stress scores (β = .15, t = 2.48, p = .013). Participants with greater news exposure and greater enjoyment tended to have higher anxiety scores (β =.15, t = 2.40, p = .017), whereas those who made greater effort to seek out the news and yet had lower enjoyment of reading the news were more anxious (β = -.15, t = -2.74, p = .006) and stressed (β = -.15, t = -2.82, p = .005). We controlled for age, gender, and social media use as needed in our initial hierarchical multiple regression models. Although follow-up data is still being collected, initial reports (on 136 individuals) suggest that initial news exposure does not predict mental health variables prospectively controlling for baseline levels, but social media use predicted increases in depression levels one month later. Notably, participants in our study who enjoyed learning about the news tended to have more adaptive emotion regulation strategies (e.g., less experiential avoidance). Additionally, higher anxiety levels related to accessing a greater variety of platforms for current events news.
Our results suggest that exposure to current events does not directly relate to the mental health variables examined. Rather, the effect of exposure depends on people’s enjoyment of learning about current events and their efforts to avoid or seek out this information. These findings also lend initial support for the role of emotion regulation strategies in influencing how people are affected by news exposure. Further research will examine news exposure with greater ecological validity through a daily diary approach and explore the role of coping strategies and cognitive styles with regard to the effects of exposure.
Assistant Professor of Psychology