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Doomscrolling

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A photo of a person's hand while scrolling through news on smartphone
A person scrolling through news on a smartphone

Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is the act of spending an excessive amount of time reading large quantities of news, particularly negative news, on the internet and social media.[1][2] Doomscrolling can also be defined as the excessive consumption of short-form videos or social media content for an excessive period of time without stopping. The concept was coined around 2020, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doomscrolling can affect anyone, but surveys and studies suggest it is predominant among youth.[3][4] It can be considered a form of internet addiction disorder. In 2019, a study by the National Academy of Sciences found that doomscrolling can be linked to a decline in mental and physical health.[5] Numerous reasons for doomscrolling have been cited, including negativity bias, fear of missing out, and attempts at gaining control over uncertainty.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The practice of doomscrolling can be compared to an older phenomenon from the 1970s called the mean world syndrome, described as "the belief that the world is a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is as a result of long-term exposure to violence-related content on television".[6] Studies show that seeing upsetting news leads people to seek out more information on the topic, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.[7]

In common parlance, the word "doom" connotes darkness and evil, referring to one's fate (cf. damnation).[8] In the internet's infancy, "surfing" was a common verb used in reference to browsing the internet; similarly, the word "scrolling" refers to sliding through online content.[8] The complete word, "doomscrolling" had been recognized as an official word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, as of September 2023, after 3 years of it being on their "watching" list.[9] Dictionary.com chose it as the top monthly trend in August 2020.[10] The Macquarie Dictionary named doomscrolling as the 2020 Committee's Choice Word of the Year.[11]

Popularity[edit]

According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used in 2020.[12] The term then continued to gain traction in the early 2020s[13][14] through events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the George Floyd protests, the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the storming of the U.S. Capitol in 2021, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine since 2022,[15] all of which have been noted to have exacerbated the practice of doomscrolling.[16][17][18] Doomscrolling became widespread among users of Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic,[19] and has also been discussed in relation to the climate crisis.[20] A 2024 survey conducted by Morning Consult, concluded that approximately 31% of American adults doomscroll on a regular basis. This percentage is further exaggerated the younger the adults are, with millennials at 46%, and Gen Z adults at 51%.[3]

The "infinite scroll"[edit]

In the context of doomscrolling, a design feature known as the "infinite scroll" plays a pivotal role in perpetuating this behavior. This feature is a mechanism that allows a social media user to "infinitely scroll", as the software is continuously loading new content and creating an endless stream of information. Consequently, this feature can exacerbate doomscrolling as it removes natural stopping points that a user might pause at.[21]

Explanations[edit]

Negativity bias[edit]

The act of doomscrolling can be attributed to the natural negativity bias people have when consuming information.[22] Negativity bias is the idea that negative events have a larger impact on one's mental well-being than good ones.[23] Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, notes that due to an individual's regular state of contentment, potential threats provoke one's attention.[24] One psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center notes that humans are "all hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to the negative because it can harm [them] physically."[25] He cites evolution as the reason for why humans seek out such negatives: if one's ancestors, for example, discovered how an ancient creature could injure them, they could avoid that fate.[26]

As opposed to primitive humans, however, most people in modern times do not realize that they are even seeking negative information. Social media algorithms heed the content users engage in and display posts similar in nature, which can aid in the act of doomscrolling.[24] As per the clinic director of the Perelman School of Medicine's Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety: "People have a question, they want an answer, and assume getting it will make them feel better ... You keep scrolling and scrolling. Many think that will be helpful, but they end up feeling worse afterward."[26]

Fear of missing out[edit]

Doomscrolling can also be explained by the fear of missing out, a common fear that causes people to take part in activities that may not be explicitly beneficial to them, but which they fear "missing out on".[27] This fear is also applied within the world of news, and social media. A research study conducted by Statista in 2013 found that more than half of Americans experienced FOMO on social media; further studies found FOMO affected 67% of Italian users in 2017, and 59% of Polish teenagers in 2021.[28]

Thus, Bethany Teachman, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, states that FOMO is likely to be correlated with doomscrolling due to the person's fear of missing out on crucial negative information.[29]

Control seeking[edit]

Obsessively consuming negative news online can additionally be partially attributed to a person's psychological need for control. As stated earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the popularity of doomscrolling. A likely reasoning behind this is that during uncertain times, people are likely to engage in doomscrolling as a way to help them gather information and a sense of mastery over the situation. This is done by people to reinforce their belief that staying informed, and in control will provide them with protection from grim situations.[30] However, while attempting to seize control, more often than not as a result of doomscrolling individuals develop more anxiety towards the situation rather than lessen it.[31]

Brain anatomy[edit]

Doomscrolling, the compulsion to engross oneself in negative news, may be the result of an evolutionary mechanism where humans are "wired to screen for and anticipate danger".[32] By frequently monitoring events surrounding negative headlines, staying informed may grant the feeling of being better prepared; however, prolonged scrolling may also lead to worsened mood and mental health as personal fears might seem heightened.[32]

The inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) plays an important role in information processing and integrating new information into beliefs about reality.[32][33] In the IFG, the brain "selectively filters bad news" when presented with new information as it updates beliefs.[32] When a person engages in doomscrolling, the brain may feel under threat and shut off its "bad news filter" in response.[32]

In a study where researchers manipulated the left IFG using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), patients were more likely to incorporate negative information when updating beliefs.[33] This suggests that the left IFG may be responsible for inhibiting bad news from altering personal beliefs; when participants were presented with favorable information and received TMS, the brain still updated beliefs in response to the positive news.[33] The study also suggests that the brain selectively filters information and updates beliefs in a way that reduces stress and anxiety by processing good news with higher regard (see optimistic bias).[33] Increased doomscrolling exposes the brain to greater quantities of unfavorable news and may restrict the brain's ability to embrace good news and discount bad news;[33] this can result in negative emotions that make one feel anxious, depressed, and isolated.[26]

Health effects[edit]

Psychological effects[edit]

Health professionals have advised that excessive doomscrolling can negatively impact existing mental health issues.[32][34][35] While the overall impact that doomscrolling has on people may vary,[36] it can often make one feel anxious, stressed, fearful, depressed, and isolated.[32]

Research[edit]

Professors of psychology at the University of Sussex conducted a study in which participants watched television news consisting of "positive-, neutral-, and negative valenced material".[37][38] The study revealed that participants who watched the negative news programs showed an increase in anxiety, sadness, and catastrophic tendencies regarding personal worries.[37]

A study conducted by psychology researchers in conjunction with the Huffington Post found that participants who watched three minutes of negative news in the morning were 27% more likely to have reported experiencing a bad day six to eight hours later.[38] Comparatively, the group who watched solutions-focused news stories reported a good day 88% of the time.[38]

News avoidance[edit]

Some people have begun coping with the abundance of negative news stories by avoiding news altogether. A study from 2017 to 2022 showed that news avoidance is increasing, and that 38% of people admitted to sometimes or often actively avoiding the news in 2022, up from 29% in 2017.[39] Even some journalists have admitted to avoiding the news; journalist Amanda Ripley wrote that "people producing the news themselves are struggling, and while they aren't likely to admit it, it is warping the coverage."[40] She also identified ways she believes could help fix the problem, such as intentionally adding more hope, agency, and dignity into stories so readers don't feel the helplessness which leads them to tune out entirely.[40]

In 2024, a study by Oxford University's Reuters Institute indicated that an increasing number of people are avoiding the news. In 2023, 39% of people worldwide reported actively avoiding the news, up from 29% in 2017. The study suggests that conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East may be contributing factors to this trend. In the UK, interest in news has nearly halved since 2015.[41]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Leskin P. "Staying up late reading scary news? There's a word for that: 'doomscrolling'". Business Insider. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  2. ^ "On 'Doomsurfing' and 'Doomscrolling'". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on April 24, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Briggs E (March 20, 2024). "How Americans Feel About Doomscrolling". Morning Consult Pro. Retrieved March 21, 2024.
  4. ^ Perez S (July 13, 2022). "Kids and teens spend more time on TikTok than YouTube". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 11, 2024.
  5. ^ Soroka S, Fournier P, Nir L (September 2019). "Cross-national evidence of a negativity bias in psychophysiological reactions to news". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 116 (38): 18888–18892. Bibcode:2019PNAS..11618888S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1908369116. PMC 6754543. PMID 31481621.
  6. ^ "Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  7. ^ Park CS (October 2, 2015). "Applying "Negativity Bias" to Twitter: Negative News on Twitter, Emotions, and Political Learning". Journal of Information Technology & Politics. 12 (4): 342–359. doi:10.1080/19331681.2015.1100225. ISSN 1933-1681. S2CID 147342965.
  8. ^ a b "On 'Doomsurfing' and 'Doomscrolling'". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  9. ^ "We Added 690 New Words to the Dictionary for September 2023". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved March 21, 2024.
  10. ^ "The Dictionary.com Word Of The Year For 2020 Is ..." Dictionary.com. November 30, 2020. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  11. ^ "The Committee's Choice & People's Choice for Word of the Year 2020". Macquarie Dictionary. December 7, 2020. Archived from the original on January 14, 2014. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
  12. ^ "Definition of DOOMSCROLLING". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved March 21, 2024.
  13. ^ Leskin P. "Staying up late reading scary news? There's a word for that: 'doomscrolling'". Business Insider. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  14. ^ Rella E (July 2020). "Why we're obsessed with reading bad news — and how to break the 'doomscrolling' habit". www.yahoo.com. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  15. ^ "Obsessed? Frightened? Wakeful? War in Ukraine sparks return of doomscrolling". TheGuardian.com. March 6, 2022.
  16. ^ "On 'Doomsurfing' and 'Doomscrolling'". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  17. ^ Jennings R (November 3, 2020). "Doomscrolling, explained". Vox. Retrieved January 6, 2021.
  18. ^ Perrigo B. "The Doomscrolling Capital of the Internet". Time. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  19. ^ "Twitter sees record number of users during pandemic, but advertising sales slow". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  20. ^ Amanda Hess (February 3, 2022). "Apocalypse When? Global Warming's Endless Scroll". The New York Times. Retrieved September 25, 2022.
  21. ^ "Infinite Scroll Advantages & Disadvantages | Built In". builtin.com. November 22, 2022. Retrieved March 29, 2024.
  22. ^ Rella E (July 2020). "Why we're obsessed with reading bad news — and how to break the 'doomscrolling' habit". www.yahoo.com. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  23. ^ Baumeister RF, Bratslavsky E, Finkenauer C, Vohs KD (2001). "Bad is Stronger than Good" (PDF). Review of General Psychology. 5 (4): 323–370. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.5.4.323. ISSN 1089-2680. S2CID 13154992.
  24. ^ a b Megan Marples (February 26, 2021). "Doomscrolling can steal hours of your time -- here's how to take it back". CNN. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  25. ^ Network TL (November 3, 2020). "'Doomscrolling'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  26. ^ a b c Miller K. "There's a Reason You Can't Stop Looking at Bad News—Here's How to Stop". Health.com. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  27. ^ Przybylski AK, Murayama K, DeHaan CR, Gladwell V (July 2013). "Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out". Computers in Human Behavior. 29 (4): 1841–1848. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.02.014.
  28. ^ "Social Media and FOMO". Social Media Victims Law Center. December 4, 2023. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  29. ^ Brenner Carla Delgado, Brad (May 6, 2022). "Why you can't stop doomscrolling and 5 tips to halt the vicious cycle". Business Insider. Retrieved March 28, 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  30. ^ Satici SA, Gocet Tekin E, Deniz ME, Satici B (April 1, 2023). "Doomscrolling Scale: its Association with Personality Traits, Psychological Distress, Social Media Use, and Wellbeing". Applied Research in Quality of Life. 18 (2): 833–847. doi:10.1007/s11482-022-10110-7. ISSN 1871-2576. PMC 9580444. PMID 36275044.
  31. ^ Conversation T (September 9, 2022). "Doomscrolling Isn't Just Bad For Your Brain, Study Finds. Here's How to Stop". ScienceAlert. Retrieved March 29, 2024.
  32. ^ a b c d e f g Blades R (March 2021). "Protecting the brain against bad news". CMAJ. 193 (12): E428–E429. doi:10.1503/cmaj.1095928. PMC 8096381. PMID 33753370.
  33. ^ a b c d e Sharot T, Kanai R, Marston D, Korn CW, Rees G, Dolan RJ (October 2012). "Selectively altering belief formation in the human brain". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 109 (42): 17058–62. Bibcode:2012PNAS..10917058S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1205828109. PMC 3479523. PMID 23011798.
  34. ^ Sestir MA (May 29, 2020). "This is the Way the World "Friends": Social Network Site Usage and Cultivation Effects". The Journal of Social Media in Society. 9 (1): 1–21. Archived from the original on August 14, 2020. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  35. ^ "Website reports only good news for a day, loses two thirds of its readers". The Independent. December 5, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  36. ^ "The Mean-World Syndrome". Thought Maybe. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  37. ^ a b Johnston WM, Davey GC (February 1997). "The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: the catastrophizing of personal worries". British Journal of Psychology. 88 ( Pt 1) (1): 85–91. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1997.tb02622.x. PMID 9061893.
  38. ^ a b c "Consuming Negative News Can Make You Less Effective at Work". Harvard Business Review. September 14, 2015. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  39. ^ "Overview and key findings of the 2022 Digital News Report". Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  40. ^ a b Ripley A (July 8, 2022). "Opinion | I stopped reading the news. Is the problem me — or the product?". Washington Post.
  41. ^ "More people turning away from news, Reuters Institute report says". www.bbc.com. Retrieved June 17, 2024.

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