News Exposure and Psychological Adjustment: Examining the Emotional Effects and Correlates of Short and Long-Term Exposure to Soft and Hard News
Keywords:hard news, soft news, sensationalism, mental health, schadenfreude
AbstractPast research has shown that news media may contain a disproportionate amount of negative news. Frequent exposure to such negative information could have detrimental effects on our mental well-being. We aimed to gain further insight into the potentially adverse effects of exposure to soft and hard news, as well as to examine potential reasons why individuals might expose themselves to such negative information. To do so, we conducted an online survey involving 176 participants (66 male, 107 female and 3 other) aged 15–65 years. The study included manipulation and additional (correlational) analyses. In the manipulation, we tested for the potential short-term effects of exposure to soft or hard news on the psychological well-being of our participants (as measured by the semi-projective Rotter Incomplete Sentences Blank; Rotter, 1950). This was done by setting three conditions (soft news, hard news and control group) wherein participants were exposed to 15 consecutive front page screenshots of the chosen soft and hard newspapers respectively. Hard news is generally more focused on major issues and breaking events – i.e., news that is important for the individual to understand, while soft news usually focuses on personal stories, is less time-bound, and is more incident-based. The correlational part of our study focused on discovering associations between long-term exposure to (different types of) news and the degree of negative emotions and well-being (measured by the DASS-21, Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) and Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965). The results did not show statistically significant differences between conditions. When comparing the long-term readers of the chosen hard and soft newspapers, statistically significant differences were found only in anxiety levels, however, a forming trend seemed to suggest that long-term exposure to soft news might be associated with reduced psychological well-being. Our findings are discussed in line with the contemporary psychological literature.