Stop watching the news

Author: Leigh van den Berg

Have we managed to flatten the curve? Which new rules have been implemented? Have any of them been relaxed? In a world caught in the grip of a pandemic, our eyes are glued to the news. While that makes sense, many of us could now say that catching up with the latest headlines only serve to leave us feeling worse. A survey by the American Psychological Association revealed more than half of those interviewed said news consumption made them feel stressed out. Despite this, one in ten adults admitted to dipping into the headlines as much as every hour they’re awake. So are we masochists? According to neuroscientist Tali Shalot, we’re merely human.


The three motives


Being unable to tear yourself away from the news, regardless of what effect it might have on our mental health is perfectly predictable says Shalot in an article for Psychology Today. After all, it rewards the three motives that drive us to seek information, the first being “instrumental utility” – wanting to find something useful. “With the pandemic, you might be thinking, ‘If I get more information, I can plan better or protect myself better’,” she says. 


The second motive is “cognitive utility” – using what we find to better understand what’s going on. “In our current circumstances, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we are trying to reduce it by seeking more information. Although, I think that the information we are getting currently might lead us to experience even more confusion and uncertainty,” she says. 


The third motive? This is “hedonic utility” – searching for information that could make you feel a certain way. “For example, you might keep watching the news with hopes of hearing something good, like a new vaccine or progress with our fight with the virus,” says Shalot. This motive isn’t always positive, however. If you have a negative opinion, you might search the internet until you find news that aligns with it. A recent global study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, on average, people pay more attention to negative news. The researchers suggest our bias towards negative news drives the media’s coverage of it, creating a vicious cycle of gloom we seemingly can’t get enough of. 


Time to take a break 


Clearly, less news means less stress so should we ignore it altogether? Psychologist Arash Emamzadeh says going “no news” isn’t necessary, but we’ll feel better if we make a point of consuming it more mindfully. “For instance, take a moment to consider whether you really need to know the graphic details of how a serial killer killed a dozen people, or need to be informed daily of how many new cases of the coronavirus are suspected in some country you do not plan to visit,” he says. If the answer is nope, change the channel or don’t click that link. 


Secondly, Emamzadeh believes you should balance the bad news with lots of good. “If you look hard enough, you will find plenty of positive news,” he says. This could be inspirational stories of those surviving and thriving or medical breakthroughs or anything that doesn’t make you worse for knowing about it. “Many of these positive news stories are not reported by major news media because good news does not sell as well as bad news. Fear sells very well. So you need to purposefully search for good news and consume positive news regularly.”


Ultimately, it’s not a case of no news is good news – just that a focus on more good news might be best for your mental health. 




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