Seeing wall-to-wall coverage of domestic terrorism can cause people to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Those symptoms, in turn, can cause people to search plus bothersome coverage in the future, creating a cycle that can be difficult to break.
For a study published today in the journal Science Advances the psychologist at the University of California in Irvine, Rebecca Thompson, and her team spent three years collecting survey data from more than 4,000 US residents. UU The team surveyed these residents four times, asking about media consumption and mental health. The cycle began with the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013. (Previous research showed that people exposed to six hours of daily coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in the week after the attack had more stress than those who were actually there). Thompson and his team discovered that the more people saw the bombings, the more annoying they were six months later and the more anguished they were about future negative events.
"When something bad is happening, you want to know what is happening to be able to formulate an answer," explains Thompson. It is normal to try to collect information in these circumstances, "but the problem is that when people see many really distressing images and sensational content in the media, this does not necessarily make them feel better." and leads to worry more about other terrible events that happen in the future. The people who worried most about the future negative events were the ones who consumed the biggest media coverage of the shooting in Orlando 2016 nightclub, which made them even more distressed.
Today's study focused on those two acts of national terrorism, but the team is also investigating whether the same patterns are compatible with natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Thompson became interested in the psychological effects of natural disasters when he was studying in 2011 after a tornado almost hit his campus. "Being part of that community during an event class that changed my life really sparked my interest in people's response to the traumas of the community," he says. Earlier this year, Thompson co-authored a study on how people who spent more time following the news about Hurricane Irma experienced more negative psychological effects.
There are many pending questions, according to Thompson. On the one hand, we still do not know what kind of media (for example, television versus online) are the most harmful, or whether the sounds and images together or separately are the most distressing. For now, the key point is that it is good to consume media in moderation, since it is natural to feel anxious if you do not know what is happening. "But the good thing is that what you do not want to be doing is to be completely consumed by this coverage and spend all day refreshing to Twitter and having the cable news played with the same video shown over and over again," says Thompson. . That could have lasting effects.