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Binge-watching news of terror attacks creates a vicious cycle

Watching 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 seek out more upsetting coverage in the future, creating a cycle that can be hard to break. For a study published today in the journal Science Advances , UC Irvine psychologist Rebecca Thompson and her team spent three years collecting survey data from over 4,000 US residents. The team surveyed these residents four times, asking about media consumption and mental health. The cycle began with the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. (Previous research showed that people exposed to six hours of daily coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in the week following the attack had more stress than those who were actually there.) Thompson and her team found that the more people saw about the bombings, the more upset they were six months later, and the more distressed they were about future negative events. “When something bad is happening, you want to know what’s happening to be able to formulate a response to it,” explains Thompson. It’s normal to try to gather information in these circumstances, “but the problem is that when people are seeing a lot of really distressing images and sensationalized content in the media, this doesn’t necessarily make them feel better.” It makes them feel worse and leads to more worry about other terrible events happening in the future. The people who were most worried about future ...Read more

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