Friday, April 19, 2019

Repeated Media Exposure to Mass Violence Linked to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the school shooting in Columbine, Colo., that claimed the lives of 15 people, and the media have already begun to bombard viewers with images and footage of the massacre’s aftermath. Although it’s natural to turn to the news to get information about such events, watching coverage of them over and over may be harmful to mental health, according to a study in Science Advances. The researchers, led by Roxane Cohen Silver, Ph.D., at the University of California, Irvine, found that media exposure to traumatic events may make viewers more emotionally sensitive to news reports of other, similar events, and cause anxiety and worry about future occurrences.

In the study, 4,165 U.S. adults responded to four surveys over the span of three years. They completed the first survey two to four weeks after the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013, with subsequent surveys six months later, at the second anniversary of the bombings, and five days after the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. The surveys were designed to capture participants’ responses to both tragedies and examine how responses to the Boston bombings affected their reactions to news coverage of the Orlando shootings.

The researchers found that media exposure to the Boston bombings was associated with symptoms of posttraumatic stress and with worry about future events, even two years after the bombings. Furthermore, the more worry and posttraumatic symptoms participants had, the more coverage of the Orlando shootings they watched, which led to even more distress.

“Given the apparent role that worry about the future plays in perpetuating this cycle of sensitivity to distress, this cycle may contribute to a prolonged physiological stress response that heightens risk for stress-related diseases,” Silver and colleagues wrote.

The researchers called upon the media to consider how it covers mass violence and traumatic events.

“Our findings suggest that media organizations should seek to balance the sensationalistic aspects of their coverage (e.g., providing more informational accounts as opposed to lengthy descriptions of carnage) as they work to inform the public about breaking news events,” they wrote. “This may reduce the impact of exposure to one event, reducing the likelihood of increased worry and media-seeking behavior over time.”

(Image: gilaxia/iStock)


The content of Psychiatric News does not necessarily reflect the views of APA or the editors. Unless so stated, neither Psychiatric News nor APA guarantees, warrants, or endorses information or advertising in this newspaper. Clinical opinions are not peer reviewed and thus should be independently verified.