Some Americans have developed mechanisms to cope with the heightened levels of emotionality associated with the news media during President Donald Trump’s administration, according to new research.
The study, published in Journalism, indicates that for many Americans the news and the political process are “often experienced as tightly integrated and sometimes even indivisible concepts” in the Trump era.
The study didn’t start out as research on Trump at all. Instead, the researchers were interested in learning more about people’s media consumption habits in general.
“We started to conduct interviews in 2017 trying to explore the ways in which adults use and interpret their uses of different technological devices, and how they relate to news in their daily lives,” said study author María Celeste Wagner, a PhD candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Our interview protocol started with a very general question about the participant’s last encounter with a news story. While we were conducting this fieldwork, we started to notice that most participants would respond to this first question with high levels of emotionality and most of the time in reference to a news story about President Trump. That’s when we decided to explore the topic more in depth.”
For their study, the researchers conducted 71 semi-structured interviews with adults in the greater metropolitan areas of Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia from January to October 2017.
Many of the participants reported a significant level of attachment to the news in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory in 2016. “I have become something of a news junkie on the latest stuff out of Washington so whatever it is that’s being written about the President,” one participant explained.
Regardless of whether they were for or against Trump, the participants also tended to express a high level of emotionality when recalling their experiences with the news. Many also reported feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or angry.
“Sometimes I just get so disgusted with it [the news] that I don’t even want to know much more about it. But I am interested in all those other things that are impacted by what he does,” a participant told the researchers.
“You watch CNN and they are like ‘everything is a disaster, everything he [Trump] is doing is wrong’ . . . it makes me angry,” another said.
“In general, our study shows that emotions play a very important role in the experience of reading or watching the news among Americans. According to participants own accounts, these emotional experiences when encountering news about politics have heightened in recent years,” Wagner told PsyPost.
“Our study also indicates that people are very aware of their emotions in these contexts, and that they try to preserve their well-being while trying to be good citizens. For some, this means receding from the public sphere, which might be problematic, and for others, it encourages them to participate politically.”
Participants reported coping with the heightened emotionality of the news by avoiding it, reducing their time interacting with it, and being more selective in their news consumption.
But as with all research, the study leaves some questions unanswered.
“The nature of our study cannot really tell if there is something about the current media landscape that is making people respond to the news more affectively, and if things were actually different before,” Wagner said.
“Further research should continue exploring the intersection between news and emotions in different contexts in order to better assess the factors that might explain different emotional responses to the news as well as changes over time.”
The study, “Angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed: The emotional experience of consuming news about President Trump“, was authored by María Celeste Wagner and Pablo J. Boczkowski.