Enhanced stress reactivity in women after exposure to negative news
Given that stress-related disorders constitute one of the most severe societal and medical problems in modern societies, investigation of the predisposing factors are more than well justified. One potential source of stress is the constant and abundant flow of negative news via the media, including 24-hour TV coverage, internet, and recently also constant access to negative newsfeed through mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. It has been relatively little explored, however, whether exposure to negative news via the mass media elevates secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol in healthy individuals.
In their recent study, Marin et al. (2012) randomly assigned thirty women and thirty men to groups that were to read twenty-four neutral vs. negative news excerpts lasting for a total of 10 minutes. After that they were all administered the Trier Social Stress Test. Salivary cortisol samples were collected at 10 minute intervals throughout the experimental procedure. A free recall of the news was also performed one day after the experiment. Even though reading the news per se failed to change cortisol levels, cortisol levels were significantly elevated by the Trier Social Stress Test in those women who were first exposed to negative news. Women also remembered the negative news excerpts better than men on the following day.
These findings disclose exposure to negative news as a potential factor that might predispose individuals to elevated stress (especially women, even though similar patterns that however failed to reach statistical significance were also noted in men) and thus in part also enhance the chance for developing stress-related disorders. The findings show that exposure to negative news modulates the stress reactivity of women to subsequent psychosocial stressor and enhances their memory performance for the negative news. These results point out the importance of better understanding individual and societal reactions to negative information that is brought to people via modern mass media more readily and abundantly than ever before in the history of our species.