JAN 29, 2023 8:33 AM PST

Political News Spikes the Stress Levels of Many Americans

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Charron

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that following daily political news can negatively impact a person’s mental health and well-being. The study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) explored the emotional and mental health effects of everyday political news as well as stress management strategies to manage negative emotional responses.

To determine how politics can be a major stressor in people’s lives, the researchers surveyed a politically diverse sample of 198 Americans. The participants answered a series of questions each night for two weeks. These questions focused on the political event they thought about most that day, emotional responses, and how they managed those emotions. The questions also probed how motivated they felt to engage in political action. 

Overall, the researchers found that thinking about daily political events evoked negative emotions. Interestingly, the survey did not ask participants to think of negative political events. Participants who experienced more politics-related negative feelings expressed that they had worse day-to-day psychological and physical health on average. At the same time, they also reported greater motivation to engage in volunteering or donating money to political campaigns.

The survey revealed that some strategies used to manage their negative emotions included distracting themselves from the news and “cognitive reappraisal” or reframing how they perceived a news event in a more objective light. Participants who effectively used these strategies to manage negative emotions reported better overall mental wellness. They also were more likely to stay motivated to engage in political action.

The researchers replicated these results over three weeks with a larger group of 811 participants that included Democrats, Republicans, and individuals affiliated with another political party or with no party affiliation. The participants watched political news clips from the highest-rated liberal and conservative-leaning news shows rather than asking them to report on political news they had encountered. These experiments required participants to watch a clip from either the Rachel Maddow Show (for liberal participants) or Tucker Carlson Tonight (for conservative participants). In the first experiment, the researchers found that participants who watched the political clip experienced more negative emotions than those who watched a neutral, non-political news clip. They also reported more motivation to volunteer for political causes or take other political actions. The effects were similar for participants across political parties.

In a final experiment, the researchers asked participants to try out several different emotion regulation strategies as they watched the clips. These strategies included distraction, cognitive reappraisal or acceptance of their negative feelings. The researchers found two strategies (distraction and cognitive reappraisal) consistently reduced participants’ negative emotions and subsequently predicted better well-being. 

The study also showed that disengaging to avoid stress related to political news has ramifications. Distracting oneself may reduce stress, but it also reduces a person’s drive to act on political causes they care about. Instead, the researchers recommend using strategies to manage stress responses to politics. The study has important implications for advocates who want to remain politically engaged but prevent harmful stress levels.

Sources: Eureka News Alert, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kerry Charron writes about medical cannabis research. She has experience working in a Florida cultivation center and has participated in advocacy efforts for medical cannabis.
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