Although avoiding political news can safeguard mental wellbeing, it may also reduce an individual’s motivation to get involved in political causes.
Keeping up with the latest news is a part of everyday life for most people. Whether it be political news, current events, or weather reports, people tune into TV or scroll through their newsfeeds to gather information about what’s happening around the world.
However, new research suggests that watching political news may take a toll on mental wellbeing.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that daily exposure to political news negatively impacts mental health and overall wellbeing. However, while the research also suggests that disengaging from politics can lessen these mental health risks, doing so may reduce the motivation to take political action.
To investigate how everyday political news impacts mental health, the research team from the University of Toronto asked 198 people in the US to answer questions about the political event or topic they thought about most that day, every night for two weeks.
The participants recorded their emotional response to the political event, how they handled these emotions, their overall mental and physical health, and whether they felt motivated to take political action.
The team found that even when the participants thought about political events that weren’t negative, it still caused negative emotions. In addition, those who said they had more politics-related negative emotions also reported worse mental and physical health. However, they also experienced more motivation to take political action.
Strategies the participants used to manage negative politics-related emotions included distraction and cognitive reappraisal or reframing the political news to be more positive. Although effective in reducing the adverse effects on mental health, these strategies also reduced the participants drive to take political action.
In the second part of the research, the scientists increased the number of participants to include Democrats, Republicans, and people affiliated with another political party or no party.
Then, instead of asking the participants to think about random political news, the team had them watch news clips from popular conservative and liberal-leaning news programs. For example, conservative participants watched Tucker Carlson Tonight, and liberal participants viewed the Rachel Maddow Show.
Results of the experiment indicated that participants experienced increased negative emotions when watching a political news clip but not when watching a non-political clip. However, just like in the first experiment, negative emotions associated with watching political news also increased motivation to take political action.
Finally, the researchers asked the participants to employ strategies to offset politically-driven negative emotions. These include distraction and cognitive reappraisal. Like the first experiment, these strategies successfully mitigated negative emotions and improved wellbeing but also reduced motivation to engage in political causes.
According to the study, the researchers say that these findings demonstrate how political events personally impact the average person, including their mental and physical health. It also reveals the far-reaching impact politicians may have beyond their formal powers.
They also note that more research is needed to determine if these results generalize to the citizens of other countries.