According to a new University of Florida study, “doom scrolling” — a word used to characterise the practice of binge-watching negative news — is a new and distinct behaviour, not just another trendy, clickbaity phrase.
The study, which was published last week in the Technology, Mind, and Behaviour journal of the American Psychological Association, also developed a method to measure doom scrolling, paving the way for researchers to dig deeper into the concept and make sense of people’s obsessive focus on negative news.
The word emerged on Twitter in 2018 and gained popularity in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak.
It begins when social media users desire to keep up with the latest news, particularly unfavourable news. According to the conclusions of the study, it eventually transforms into compulsive internet scrolling for bad information.
One of the main goals of the study was to create and test a survey scale that could measure doom scrolling. The results revealed that the metric was accurate and that a doom scroller is more than just someone who wants to be informed.
What is Doom scrolling, and how does it work?
It refers to the proclivity to keep surfing or scrolling through unpleasant news, even if it is sad or gloomy. Many people are finding themselves continuously reading bad news about Covid-19 without being able to stop, even sacrificing their crucial sleep time or working hours in the process.
The term has recently gained traction, with the Los Angeles Times included it in one of its most recent doom scrolling headlines about how coronavirus has injected a new lexicon of words into our daily lives.
There are no ideological differences between dread scrollers, according to the study; they are both left and right-leaning. Men and young people, however, were more likely than women and older persons to engage in the behaviour.
Why are we doing it in the first place?
What causes the behaviour is unknown. According to the study, it’s specific to the current situation users are in; with the epidemic, global political difficulties, and mass killings, people can become drawn into finding terrible news. The study discovered that doom scrolling is linked to a fear of losing out and a continual connection to the internet via smartphones.
It’s unknown if doom scrolling creates anxiety or anxiety causes it. Although the authors of the study feel they are mutually beneficial, more research is needed to determine the source and impact.
Dr. Nimesh Desai, Director, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, Delhi, was reported in an interview with The Indian Express as saying, that, “It becomes a behavioural addiction — not only positive news gives you a dopamine-high, negative news also does something similar. So it becomes a self-sustaining activity, on the lines of any chemical addiction. Even voyeurism is addictive.”
While consuming more information becomes addictive, social media algorithms may serve up content based on our current interests. As a result, the situation spirals out of control.
What are the ways to stop doom scrolling?
Desai claims that doom scrolling has recently become a reality, despite the fact that social media presents us with an inflated image of reality. We are not yet on the verge of apocalypse, but social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook could convince us otherwise.
Doom scrolling, he suggests, can promote negative thoughts and a negative mindset, which can have a significant influence on one’s mental health. Fear, tension, worry, and melancholy have all been connected to negative news consumption in studies. If you’re on social media and seeing pandemic-related content, double-check before you believe anything.
While doom scrolling does result in higher news intake, it is a specific form of news. The study implies that once doom scrollers realise what they’re doing, they may take proactive steps to correct it.
This might be problematic for news organisations, who rely on social media articles to attract visitors to their websites. People may also become suspicious of social media accounts that post a disproportionate amount of negative content, according to the study.
Desai, on the other hand, advocates for self-control. “Psycho-biologically speaking, one can easily become habituated to this phenomenon owing to its addictive nature. A deliberate effort is required to step back from excessive social media exposure in these troubled times,” he said.
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