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Monday February 06, 2023

Political news can be 'bad for mental health'

Study demonstrates the potentially broad impact politicians may have outside of their official roles

By Web Desk
January 20, 2023
Old Man Sitting While Holding Newspaper Article somewhere in Bikaner, RJ, India.— Pexels
Old Man Sitting While Holding Newspaper Article somewhere in Bikaner, RJ, India.— Pexels

For most people, being aware of news is a part of daily life. People watch TV or scroll their newsfeeds to learn about what's happening in the world, whether it be political news, current affairs, or weather updates.

New research, however, raises concerns about the potential negative effects of political news on mental health.

The research, which was written up in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concluded that regular exposure to political news has a detrimental effect on one's general wellness and mental health. Although the evidence also indicates that avoiding politics can lower these hazards to mental health, doing so may lessen one's desire to pursue political action.

The research team from the University of Toronto recruited 198 people in the US to answer questions on the political event or issue they thought about most that day, every night for two weeks, in order to examine how daily political news affects mental health.

Participants kept track of their emotional reaction to the political event, how they dealt with those emotions, their general physical and mental well-being, and whether they felt inspired to engage in political action.

The researchers discovered that participants experienced unpleasant feelings even when thinking about positive political occurrences. Additionally, those who reported feeling more negatively affected by politics also reported having poorer physical and mental health. However, they also felt more inspired to engage in political activity.

Distraction and cognitive reappraisal or re-framing the political news to be more positive were two strategies the participants used to manage their negative emotions related to politics. These tactics decreased the participants' motivation to engage in political activity while also lowering the negative impacts on their mental health.

In the second phase of the study, the researchers recruited more people, including Democrats, Republicans, members of other political parties, and those who did not identify with any political party.

The researchers then had the participants view news excerpts from well-known conservative and liberal news shows rather than asking them to consider any random political news.

The experiment's findings showed that watching a political news clip caused participants to feel more unpleasant emotions than watching a non-political news clip did. However, similar to the first trial, watching political news was negatively associated with increased motivation to engage in politics.

Finally, the researchers instructed the participants to use coping mechanisms to counteract unfavourable political sentiments. These include cognitive diversion and reappraisal. Similar to the first experiment, these techniques effectively reduced unpleasant feelings and enhanced well-being but also decreased motivation to support political causes.

The study's authors claim that these results show how political events personally affect the typical person's well-being, including their mental and physical health. It also demonstrates the potentially broad impact politicians may have outside of their official roles.

They also point out that additional analysis is required to see whether these findings apply to those living in other nations.