UF researchers on negative effects of ‘doomscrolling’

Reporter: Corey Lazar Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Man looking at his smartphone. Credit: WINK News

Swiping and swiping, negative news article after negative news article, for minutes or even hours. It’s called “doomscrolling,” and you may be surprised to catch yourself doing it, but it’s not uncommon, and the cycle is hard to break despite the negative effects it may have on you.

Jeff Gump admits he sometimes gets sucked into his social media, especially when negative articles on recent events consume him.

“Once you get in to that algorithm you are in trouble because it is like negative, negative, negative,” Gump said. “I am spending about, I can’t believe, I am spending about an hour on there every day, so I’d say after a couple days I just have to get off.”

For some people, purposefully seeking out the bad news starts to affect their mood.

Laura Fields is a college student who caught herself doomscrolling. It got so bad that it brought down her performance at work.

“I couldn’t focus on my work; I thought, ‘Maybe it is time to take a step back,'” Fields said. “You are really letting your emotions get the best of you. It seems like I couldn’t look away from it.”

Benjamin Johnson and his team at the University of Florida dove into doomscrolling. They found that neverending negative scrolling can turn into compulsive behavior. But, he found, not everyone is a doomscroller.

“What we found is that doomscrolling is something real, it’s unique,” Johnson said. “There are some personality traits that people might have, like being neurotic, being less conscientious. And there are some other experiences that people have, like being anxious, that make them more likely to doomscroll.”

Johnson’s research has discovered that men are more likely to doomscroll than women, and young people are more likely than older adults. Doomscrollers are both left- and right-leaning on the political spectrum and it stems from a real fear of missing out.

“People who, you know, are the type to always worry about missing out on a conversation or worry about missing out on an event, the people who are prone to FOMO, also tended to doomscroll quite a bit,” Johnson said.

The good news: You have the power to stop it and self-regulate, which is exactly what Gump does when he notices he’s being inundated online.

“I can’t get away from it,” Gump said. “It gets to a point where you turn it off.”

This research created a framework for others to investigate why people obsess over negative news and possibly come up with systems for better self-regulation.

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