What is it about?

On a daily basis, people are confronted with a wide variety of negative news. This was particularly striking during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper examined what motivates people to engage with potentially distressing news about a world-wide pandemic. We found that people have beliefs about the extent to which they could learn something valuable from COVID-19 news, how relevant the news was to their own lives, and whether they were morally obliged to stay informed. These beliefs predicted people's decisions to read the news articles.

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Why is it important?

Some people may wonder why they are so inclined to update themselves on bad things that happen in the world. Our results support the idea that negative news offers informational value, both in terms of understanding negative events, and in terms of preparing for an emergency. Furthermore, engagement with negative news can be motivated by moral values. These results are important to understand why people engage with negative content more generally, in order to find handholds to stimulate or discourage this behavior.


We hope that this paper will contribute to a better understanding of the balance between the upsides (i.e., staying informed) and the downsides (i.e., feeling distressed) of engaging with negative news, both in the short and the long term.

Suzanne Oosterwijk
University of Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: To read or not to read? Motives for reading negative COVID-19 news., American Psychologist, November 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/amp0001178.
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