Benjamin Johnson and UFCJC Doctoral Students Describe Doomscrolling and Its Impact on Psychological Well-Being
Research by Benjamin Johnson, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) Advertising associate professor, and doctoral students Bhakti Sharma and Susanna Lee was featured in “Doomscrolling: What It Is and How to Stop” published on builtin.com on July 12.
Doomscrolling describes the act of compulsively scrolling through a social media feed to find the most current and relevant negative news, often for hours at a time.
According to Johnson, “It’s often an automatic response to seeing bad news. Though the earliest known usage of the term can be traced back to a tweet in 2018, it wasn’t until 2020 that it took off. People, isolated from friends and family, surfed social media compulsively looking for the latest bits of news on the pandemic, developing a new habit in the process.”
In 2021, Johnson, Sharma and Lee published a study confirming doomscrolling as a unique, scientifically observable behavior different from “trying to stay informed” or being a “news junkie.” The research is summarized here.
They boiled it down to a list of 15 behaviors that strongly correlate to the act of doomscrolling. The four most common include having the urge to seek bad news, losing track of time while reading bad news, continuously browsing while not being aware of it and craving negative news.
“We define it as a habit that involves people’s use of social media news feeds, specifically they’re scanning … through content in pursuit of information that’s timely, current and negative. While they’re doing that, they’re getting immersed,” Johnson said. “People lose track of time and they’re going down rabbit holes.”
Their study also found that people who doomscroll also experience feelings of negative FOMO, or fear of missing out.
“They don’t want to experience the disaster, but they feel compelled to keep searching for the latest news because they don’t want to miss out on knowing about it,” Johnson said. “For starters, social media’s use of targeted algorithms creates the perfect environment for endless doomscrolling. Once you click on one negative news story, it populates another, then another, skewing your feed toward doom and away from a more balanced perspective.”
Johnson added that he did not find any connection between doomscrolling and a person’s psychological well-being based on the World Health Organization’s Five Well-Being Index, which involves five self-reported questions that measure a person’s mental wellness and is often used in clinical trials and studies.
“It might not have long-term harm, but certainly it makes people feel lousy in the short term,” he said. “There’s potential for harm. We shouldn’t overstate the risk, but it can be detrimental in the short term for people’s mental well-being.”