Planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Bodies washing up on the shore after the Japan tsunami. Bloodied victims being rolled out of the Aurora movie theater.
We watch on our TVs and computers in horror and heartache. And it may be making us sick.
Researchers at UC Irvine studied news-watching habits following “collective traumas”–natural disasters, mass shootings and terrorist attacks–and found that prolonged and repeated exposure to graphic media images may have long-lasting mental and physical health consequences.
In an assessment of more than 1,300 participants, those who watched more than four hours a day of TV news coverage in the weeks after 9/11 and the start of the Iraq War reported acute and post-traumatic stress symptoms over time. They were also more likely to report physical health problems two to three years later. Researchers took their mental health and traumatic histories into account.
“Our findings are both relevant and timely as vivid images reach larger audiences than ever before through YouTube, social media and smartphones,” says study author Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychology and social behavior.
She says she does not advocate restricting or censoring war images, but wants people to know “there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic images of horror.”
The study will appear in an issue of Psychological Science, the flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
While the research centers on television news, don't expect the findings to change the way we report news here at this infernal rag. If your brain needs a break from the raw truth, we have some other media outlets to recommend …