Read Time - 7 min
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!