People who feel a greater need to stay informed are more likely to participate in the democratic process, according to a new study published in political psychology. The results show that being a so-called “news junkie” has some positive consequences.
“It’s common for people to identify as newsjunkie or to attach the label to someone they know, but previous social science literature has not provided a way to measure the trait of newsjunkie,” said study author Justin Martin of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and Krishna Sharma from Northwestern University.
“Justin created the intrinsic need for a benchmark to assess individuals’ newsjunkie tendencies and to see the attitudes and behaviors associated with being a newsjunkie. We live in a time when some people and groups slander the news media and even celebrate when people stop consuming news – Lukas Nelson has a song called “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)”. Those claims carry less weight when the things newsjunkies believe and do are prosocial.”
For their study, the researchers asked a nationally representative sample of 2,059 US adults about their intrinsic need for orientation, i.e. their motivation to keep up to date with current events. Participants also completed assessments of voter registration, voting intention, voter conscientiousness, frequency of news consumption, social media use, political partisanship, and demographic variables.
The poll was conducted around eight weeks before the US presidential election on November 3, 2020.
Researchers found that intrinsic need for guidance was positively correlated with voter registration, intent to vote in the 2020 US election, and voter conscientiousness. Those with a stronger intrinsic need for direction agreed more with statements such as “I watch the news first thing every day” and “I feel uncomfortable when I don’t know what’s going on in the world”.
The results held even after controlling for frequency of news consumption, social media use, political partisanship, and demographic variables.
“Newsjunkies, people with a strong intrinsic need for direction, are more likely to be registered to vote, intend to vote in an upcoming election, and feel guilty if an election is passed and they didn’t vote, than non-newsjunkies.” Martin and Sharma told PsyPost.
“Avid news consumption does not appear to be the same as heavy video gaming, online gambling, or social media use, as news junkie behavior is typically associated with numerous positive outcomes. Given that the newsjunkie trait is positively associated with voting, researchers, educators, and civil society organizers may wish to find ways to strengthen the newsjunkie trait in schools and communities.”
However, the researchers noted that it’s also possible that being a news junkie is also associated with negative consequences. “For example, does the newsjunkie trait correlate strongly with neuroticism or with anxiety? Do news junkies likely have unfounded fears of the dangers around them (something media researchers call the common-world phenomenon)? Are news junkies giving up other healthy pursuits like sleep and exercise because they spend so much time following current events?”
“The Dunning-Kruger effect is the tendency of people with low competence in a subject area to dramatically overestimate their abilities, and the phenomenon has been observed frequently in relation to political knowledge,” added Martin and Sharma. “It will be interesting to see whether the Dunning-Kruger effect is more pronounced among news junkies, who may be overconfident because they consume a lot of information, or whether news junkies are more modest about their own abilities because they’re regularly reminded how much.” Work they do It takes trying to keep up with the massive amounts of news.”
“Future research should also examine how people become or do not become news junkies by examining adolescents’ intrinsic need for orientation and following the same participants into and through adulthood via panel studies,” the researchers continue. “This can also help us understand how citizens’ newsjunkie bias can be strengthened to encourage greater civic engagement.”
The study “Are newsjunkies more likely to vote? Intrinsic Guidance Needs and Voter Registration, Voting Intention and Voter Awareness” was published on May 11, 2022.