People who feel the greatest need to follow the news are more likely to participate in the democratic process, according to new research published in Political Psychology. The findings provide evidence that being a so-called “newsjunkie” is associated with some positive outcomes.
“It is common for people to identify themselves as news junkies, or assign the label to someone they know, but previous social science literature has not offered a way to measure news junkie trait,” study authors Justin Martin said. , from the Graduate Institute of Doha. and Krishna Sharma of Northwestern University.
“Justin created the intrinsic need for an orientation scale to assess individuals’ news junkie tendencies and to see what types of attitudes and behaviors are associated with being a news junkie. We live in a time when some people and groups defame the news media and even celebrate when people stop consuming news – Lukas Nelson has a song called ‘Turn Off the News (Build a Garden).’ These claims carry less weight if the things news junkies believe and do are pro-social.”
For the study, researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,059 US adults about their intrinsic need for guidance, that is, their motivation to follow the news about current events. Participants also completed assessments of voter registration, voting intent, voter awareness, frequency of news consumption, social media use, political partisanship, and demographic variables.
The poll was conducted about eight weeks before the US presidential election on November 3, 2020.
The researchers found that the intrinsic need for guidance was positively correlated with being registered to vote, with the intention to vote in the 2020 US election, and with voter awareness. Those with a stronger intrinsic need for guidance agreed more strongly with statements such as “One of the first things I do every day is check the news” and “I feel uncomfortable when I don’t know what’s going on in the world.”
The findings held up even after controlling for frequency of news consumption, social media use, political partisanship, and demographic variables.
“News junkies, people with a strong intrinsic need for guidance, are more likely to be registered to vote, intend to vote in an upcoming election, and feel guilty if an election passes and they don’t vote than non-news junkies. ”. Martin and Sharma told PsyPost.
“Avid news consumption does not appear to be the same as heavy video game use, online gambling or social media use, as news junkies’ behaviors tend to be associated with a number of positive outcomes. Indeed, given that the newsjunkie trait is positively associated with voting, researchers, educators, and civic organizers may want to find ways to strengthen the newsjunkie trait in schools and communities.”
But the researchers noted that it’s also possible that being a news junkie is also associated with negative outcomes. “For example, is the news junkie trait strongly correlated with neuroticism or with anxiety? Do news junkies likely have unfounded fears about the danger of their environments (something media researchers call a mid-world phenomenon)? Do news junkies forgo other healthy activities, like sleeping and exercising, because they spend too much time tracking current events?”
“The Dunning-Kruger effect is the tendency for people with low competence in a skill area to dramatically overestimate their ability, and the phenomenon has been commonly observed in relation to political knowledge,” added Martin and Sharma. “It will be interesting to see if the Dunning-Kruger effect is more pronounced among news junkies, who can be overconfident because they consume too much information, or if news junkies have more modest assessments of their own abilities because they are regularly reminded of how much work you have to try to keep up with large amounts of news.”
“Future research should also examine how people become, or do not become, news junkies, studying the intrinsic need for guidance among adolescents and following the same participants into adulthood through panel studies,” the researchers continued. “This can also help us understand how the citizen news junkie trend can be strengthened to encourage increased civic participation.”
The study, “Are Newsjunkies More Likely to Vote? Intrinsic Need for Guidance and Voter Registration, Intention to Vote and Voter Awareness”, was published on May 11, 2022.