Why Do I Doomscroll? A Psychological Analysis

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Why Do I Doomscroll? A Psychological Analysis

How does doomscrolling start?

Have you ever spent hours trawling the internet for bad news? As the internet has given us the ability to stay tuned into global problems such as disease, war, and bitter political divisions, many of us are logging on to improve our understanding of the situations. When confronted with seemingly endless streams of bad news, many of us can’t resist scrolling down for more – a practice popularly known as “doomscrolling”. 

If you recognize the symptoms of doomscrolling, you’re not alone. According to a recent study of 1,100 US adults, 16.5% displayed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption involving obsessive searches for negative information. Another 27.3% demonstrated “moderately problematic” habits that interfered with their wellbeing. 

Over time, doomscrolling can cause negative mental health effects, including anxiety and depression. One study of COVID-19-related news consumption showed that even a few minutes of exposure to pandemic-related social media posts could ruin a person’s mood. Clearly, doomscrolling represents a threat to society’s health and happiness.

The reasons behind doomscrolling

On the surface, doomscrolling may seem like a strange and self-sabotaging hobby. Why is immersing yourself in upsetting headlines and depressing social media feeds so alluring? Well, psychological analysis can reveal a few interesting motivations behind doomscrolling, including:

1. Fear of missing out

Research shows that doomscrolling is strongly linked to the fear of missing out, an emotion that can also drive social media addiction and other compulsive habits. Social media platforms such as Twitter are designed to keep users highly engaged, deploying algorithms that prioritize content linked to their interests, fears, and desires. During times of uncertainty or crisis, some people consume as much information as possible to feel in control, creating a vicious cycle catalyzed by algorithms. 

2. High political engagement

Younger adults and politically engaged individuals are especially prone to doomscrolling. While high political engagement can help people become active and valued members of their community, it can produce negative emotional effects when taken too far. For example, politicization can limit an individual’s ability to consider opposing viewpoints and engage in constructive debate. Other issues include burnout, loss of focus on other important aspects of life, and strained relationships with friends and family members. 

3. Dopamine

While it may sound counterintuitive, stumbling across a shocking or provocative news story can trigger the brain’s reward system. When this system kicks into gear, the body releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. After experiencing this pleasurable feeling, people may want to replicate it again and again.

Tips for overcoming doomscrolling

If you have a problematic relationship with the scroll function, don’t fret. While you can’t do anything about the global news cycle, you can seize control of your tech habits and successfully curb your social media use. Here are a few tips for regaining control of your digital media use:

  • Engage in offline activities: Doomscrolling can – somewhat ironically – shrink our view of the world. While we may engage with global problems, doomscrolling prevents us from appreciating the bigger picture. There are plenty of optimistic events and projects going on in the world. If social media feeds affect your mental health, take a step outside and get involved in something life-affirming!
  • Set time limits: It’s perfectly reasonable to want to stay informed about issues affecting society. However, it only takes a few minutes a day to keep up with the main headlines. We recommend setting limits on your digital consumption using an app that restricts your usage. While it may prove tricky initially, you’ll quickly appreciate the emotional benefits. 
  • Seek professional support: It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious during times of social and political upheaval. However, a mental health professional can help you process these difficult emotions and give you the tools to avoid habits such as doomscrolling.
  • Remind yourself of your brain’s worst habits: Studies show that people frequently display confirmation bias when confronted with bad news. In other words, you’re hardwired to seek out information that supports your view of the world. If you already believe the world is dangerous or frightening, your brain will crave further evidence of this worldview. While you can’t totally eliminate confirmation bias, reminding yourself of your brain’s rationalization habits could help you put things in perspective and avoid doomscrolling.
  • Curate your newsfeed: If possible, try to follow social media channels and accounts that don’t focus on purely negative subjects. An injection of joy or humor could be enough to offset your doomscrolling tendencies and put you in a good mood!

The bottom line: Doomscrolling won't get you anywhere...

As you can see, doomscrolling is an understandable human reaction to uncertainty. However, it’s unlikely to reap any benefits. If you’re tired of endless scrolling, take control of your digital habits today!

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