The Scary World Syndrome: News Orientations, Negativity Bias, and the Cultivation of Anxiety

Kim Andersen, Monika Djerf-Pierre, Adam Shehata

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Negativity bias is one of the most salient features of news reporting. According to cultivation theory, this bias can foster anxiety about societal issues among news audiences. The relationship is, however, likely to depend on the audience’s news orientations and the issue under consideration. Drawing on a content analysis of mainstream and alternative news media and a three-wave panel survey, both conducted in Sweden, we examine how general and alternative news orientations relate to egotropic anxiety (worry about being personally affected or harmed) about violent crimes and climate change. The results show that while alternative news media portray violent crimes more negatively than mainstream news media, the opposite is true for climate change, which mainstream news media portray more negatively than alternative news media. Consistent with this finding, alternative news orientation is related to higher levels of anxiety about violent crimes, while general news orientation is related to higher levels of anxiety about climate change, illustrating how people seek information that concur with and thereby maintain or reinforce their beliefs. These results have consequences both for cultivation theory and for our understanding of the role played by mainstream and alternative news media in society.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMass Communication and Society
ISSN1520-5436
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2024

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