Negative, localized online news garners more attention, study finds

Aug 27, 2009

According to the "hardwired for news" theory, people devote more attention to information that is deviant or threatening. To test the theory, University of Missouri researchers examined the physiological effects of reading threatening health news online. The researchers found that news about local health threats increased attention and memory in readers more than news about distant, or non-local, health threats.

"Although journalists have often prioritized negative and local stories, there has been limited evidence to support that approach until now," said Kevin Wise, assistant professor of strategic communication in the MU School of Journalism. "This study provides physiological evidence that supports both the practice of localizing news stories and the idea that people allocate more attention to negative news with a local focus."

This study is one of only a few that used physiological response to examine how people respond to reading text. The results indicate that people have an innate mechanism that enables more attention to be given to information that is localized and negative, Wise said.

"It seems ironic, but the majority of the time that people spend online is spent reading text," Wise said. "Therefore, identifying how people process and respond to text is critical to understanding the cognitive and emotional processing of all interactive media."

In the study, Wise measured the physiological responses, including heart rate, of participants as they read news stories about either local or distant health threats. He found that reading high-proximity, or local, health news elicited slower heart rate than low-proximity news, an indication that more cognitive resources were allocated to the local news. Additionally, participants more accurately recalled details from local health threats compared to distant threats.

"It's logical to assume that people will be more likely to take protective or preventative action after reading about a local health threat," Wise said. "If journalists can increase the awareness of threats in local communities, then people will have opportunities to act upon that information."

The study, "Exploring the Hardwired for News Hypothesis: How Threat Proximity Affects Cognitive and Emotional Processing of Health-Related Print ," was published in the July-August 2009 issue of Communication Studies.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia (news : web)

Explore further: Timing of the Ferguson case may have made the riots worse

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Less is More' Online

Jul 10, 2007

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have found that less is more when it comes to online content. In a study that examined responses to pictures viewed online, the researchers found that people were able to ...

Web News Readers Have Greater Attention Span: Study

Mar 31, 2007

People who use the Internet to read the news have a greater attention span than print readers, according to a U.S. study that refutes the idea that Web surfers jump around and don't read much.

Recommended for you

Beyond human: Exploring transhumanism

Nov 25, 2014

What do pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, Iron Man and flu vaccines all have in common? They are examples of an old idea that's been gaining in significance in the last several decades: transhumanism. The word ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.