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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

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The ‘dark’ habit of compulsively consuming bad news (and how we can stop it)

There are multiple reasons why the urge to read can be so strong.

Since the start of the pandemic, 29-year-old Emily Bernstein has been scrolling and scrolling… That is, scrolling vertically on a touch screen.

As a comedy writer in Los Angeles, Bernstein needs to dive into Twitter and news sites for material.

But her work is not only what makes her glued to the phone: it is the obsession of the so-called doomscrolling, a term that is difficult to translate into Spanish that refers to the obsession with consuming (usually bad) news, dragging through a news source nonstop, no matter how bad these are or how many trolls comments you read along the way.

“I found myself in bed at night browsing news pages, knowing it wasn’t healthy for me… so why do I do it?” Bernstein muses.

It is a question that many doomscrolles, those who exercise this practice, have been asking themselves.

There are multiple reasons why the urge to read can be so strong: the feeling of security in the face of greater knowledge, especially during difficult times; the design of social media platforms that constantly update and give more space to those who make the most noise; and, of course, human fascination.

“It’s like not being able to look away from a traffic accident,” Bernstein describes.

Beyond our intuition telling us that doomscrolling makes us feel terrible, studies carried out during the pandemic have corroborated this, linking anxiety and depression with the consumption of news related to COVID-19 and more time dedicated to the cell phones.

So why do we keep scrolling or sliding nonstop? And why can this practice be strangely reassuring?

Can there be surprising advantages to keeping our eyes glued to the screen?

The ‘pleasure’ of ‘doomscrolling’
Most of us dedicate part of 2020 to doomscrolling, so much so that the Oxford English Dictionary named it the word of the year, and even included it in its dictionary.

But doomscrolling is not really a new behavior.

Although the term seems to have entered the public lexicon in early 2020, around the first lockdowns by COVID-19, the public has long maintained the mentality of “I can’t help not looking at a traffic accident” that Beirnstein mentioned when it comes to consuming news.

“The precursor to looking for that online was people watching the 11pm news, it was scary,” explains Dean McKay, a professor of psychology at Fordham University in New York, who specializes in compulsive behavior and disorder. anxiety.

That “terror”, viewed from the comfort of the viewer’s home, however, had a potentially calming effect.

McKay describes that attitude as that of people acknowledging that “things are very bad, [but] I’m comfortable, so I’m going to be able to sleep well tonight knowing [that I can feel good about] my situation in life.”

The professor suggests that doomscrolling may be a “modern equivalent” to that.

However, unlike the evening news, those that are online do not stop at an exact time.

During these especially uncertain times in 2020, it’s no surprise that people like Bernstein spent the night on his cell phone.

People “needed” information: at first, because there was so little about the virus, and later, because they were caught in an endless news cycle about the new health threat.

As Pamela Rutledge, director of the California Media Psychology Research Center, describes it, doomscrolling “really just describes the compulsive need to try to get answers when we are afraid.”

After all, we have to assess whether the new information constitutes a threat.

“We are biologically designed to respond to that,” she notes.

“Unfortunately, journalism contributes to that trend to some degree,” she adds.

Provocative headlines and stories appeal to readers because they evoke fear and urgency.

As Bernstein says, “You have a kind of feeling that if you know all the latest news, you can better protect yourself and your family.”

This seems reasonable, but most people continue to swipe their cell phone past having found out any valuable information.

Bernstein, for example, starts his doomscrolling sessions by reading the news, but usually ends up in the comments section swiping nonstop.

“I know there is just going to be a batch of psychopaths insulting other psychopaths,” he points out, “I honestly don’t know why I’m doing it.”

She is attracted, in a way, to negativity.

McKay sees a possible evolutionary explanation.

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