Study: Media Coverage of Violent Events Found to Fuel Cycle of Stress

In an era of round-the-clock news cycles and ever-present social media apps, violent events that occur thousands of miles away can feel as though they strike increasingly close to home. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that wall-to-wall media coverage of mayhem can induce post-traumatic stress in those who consume it.

A new study that tracked thousands of Americans after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 in Orlando, Fla., found that for many who acknowledged initial distress over one of these events, watching lots of news coverage about it was associated with experiencing more post-traumatic stress symptoms six months later.

And that was not the end of their distress. Those who spent more hours engaged with seven different forms of media coverage about one event were more likely to worry over future events. And then, when another national trauma took place, those same people tended to seek out more coverage of it.

The result of this vicious cycle: deepened levels of distress.

“Distress responses to past large-scale collective traumas (e.g., terror attacks) may sensitize some individuals to media coverage of later collective tragedies, thereby exacerbating distress responses in their aftermath,” the study authors wrote in Wednesday’s edition of the journal Science Advances. “This sensitization process may fuel a cycle of distress.”

And that, the authors added, is a public health issue, since people with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic distress are more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems.

The researchers, from the University of California, Irvine, analyzed the news and social media consumption of 4,165 adults from around the country. They also tracked their psychological states for as long as three years after two major violent events: the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured hundreds, and the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 dead and 53 injured.

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SOURCE: Melissa Healy
The Los Angeles Times