Doomscrolling: addicted to negative news

Published on: Apr 18, 2022Entrepreneurship Summit
Entrepreneurship Campus

By Entrepreneurship Campus

schwarze Hand hält Bombe aus Zeitungspapier

Climate crisis.
Corona pandemic.
Ukraine conflict.

Negative news hits us daily and in a continuous loop - via the screen, social media or as push messages on our cell phones. Unlike in the past, today we can stay "up-to-date" on 5 channels around the clock.

Well informed? Not necessarily. The constant bad news and doomsday scenarios can make you feel helpless, afraid and powerless. Negative reporting can make us sick in constant exposure and distort our view of the world.

Closer to doom with every swipe of the finger

Doomscrolling is the name of the phenomenon that makes us addicted to negative news. Doom means "doom" in English. We "scroll" through the negative headlines to our own "doom," so to speak.

But why do we do this in the first place?

According to neuroscientist and professor of media psychology Maren Urner, it's due to our stone-age brain: "Our brain is optimized to react to negativity better, more intensively and generally just faster." (Deutschlandfunk Nova) In the Stone Age, information about possible dangers was essential for survival. Our "modern" brain also tries to classify negative news as possible threats and to protect us from danger.

But it is precisely this image of omnipresent danger that the media are only too happy to paint. Because it has long since broken out: the battle for our attention. And in a fast-moving age with countless offers, attention is becoming a precious resource. We are not being sold news. We are sold a feeling.

And negative news sells better than good news.


"A large portion of the population pays attention to what they feed their bodies. On the other hand, they don't do that with the brain. " Prof. Maren Urner

We need media hygiene 

How can we avoid consuming media like fast food? Prof. Maren Urner demands: "We need to develop better media hygiene. A large part of the population pays attention to what they feed their bodies. On the other hand, they don't do that with the brain. Yet it is our most sensitive organ." (Deutschlandfunk Nova)

We have to ask ourselves: Are we better informed by the flood of news or are we making ourselves sick?

Take the Ukraine conflict as an example: the pure mass consumption of information and negative news does not help us or the victims of the war. In the worst case, it even paralyzes us and blocks our ability to think and act: "One of the most important findings of numerous research studies in this area with regard to the question of when we make good decisions can be summarized roughly as follows: stress, fear and the feeling of powerlessness are not good advisors. On the other hand, when we feel safe, empowered and good, we are much better able to make smart and wise decisions. It is precisely these feelings that make us think and act in a solution- and future-oriented way." (Maren Urner, Raus aus der ewigen Dauerkrise, Droemer 2019)

Images with effect 

A study after the 2013 Boston Marathon attack ( found something astonishing: people who closely followed the reports a week after the incident were even more stressed than people who were there live. Intensive consumption of media reports after traumatizing events does not fail to have an effect on the audience.

Media hygiene means paying attention: When do I absorb what news? From which sources? For how long? It's not about looking away or suppressing, but making sure we stay mentally healthy and able to act. That also means putting our brains on standby sometimes and giving ourselves a break.

Get out of the eternal perpetual crisis Solve today's problems with tomorrow's thinking

Maren Urner, 2019 Droemer Verlag

Constructive journalism instead of doomscrolling

Constructive journalism is characterized by reporting based on solution-oriented news instead of negative and conflict-based news. "It doesn't just describe what's going wrong in the world, but strives to identify and discuss solutions to existing problems." (For the full explanation of constructive journalism, check out Perspective Daily, an online magazine co-founded by Maren Urner).

Constructive journalism doesn't stop at What? but rather asks, And what next? 

By looking to the future and to the possibilities for action within our sphere of influence, we perceive ourselves and the world in a different way. Self-efficacy as the opposite of being overwhelmed and helpless....

Instead of destructive thoughts, constructive actions 

"If we have learned anything from our responses to harrowing challenges like the COVID pandemic, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Putin's invasion of Ukraine, it may be this: Humans are the only species on Earth that can reimagine their own future and reshape it. We can redefine and change the rules, goals, and paradigms that govern our civilizational forms and patterns of cooperation. Cultivating and developing this capacity is essential for the future of this planet - and for the future of humanity." (Prof. Otto Scharmer)

Maren Urner

Maren Urner is a neuroscientist and professor of media psychology at HMKW in Cologne. She studied cognitive and neuroscience, among others at McGill University in Montreal, and received her PhD from University College London. In 2016, she co-founded the first ad-free online magazine "Perspective Daily" for constructive journalism. She led the editorial team as editor-in-chief until March 2019 and served as managing editor. Her two books "Schluss mit dem täglichen Weltuntergang" and "Raus aus der ewigen Dauerkrise" are SPIEGEL bestsellers. We are looking forward to your keynote at the ENTREPENEURSHIP SUMMIT 2022!

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