People who feel a greater need to keep up to date with the news are more likely to participate in the democratic process, according to new research published in Political Psychology† The findings provide evidence that being a so-called “news junkie” is associated with some positive outcomes.
“It’s common for people to identify as a news junkie, or assign the label to someone they know, but previous social science literature has provided no way to measure the news junkie trait,” said study authors Justin Martin of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. . and Krishna Sharma of Northwestern University.
Justin created the intrinsic need for an orientation scale to assess individuals’ news junkie tendencies, and to see what attitudes and behaviors are associated with news junkies. We live in a time when some people and groups defame the news media, even celebrating when people stop consuming news – Lukas Nelson has a song called ‘Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)’. Those claims carry less weight if the things news junkies believe and do are prosocial.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,059 American adults regarding their intrinsic need for orientation, meaning their motivation to stay informed about current events. The participants also completed assessments of voter registration, intent to vote, voter conscientiousness, frequency of news consumption, social media use, political bias and demographic variables.
The survey was conducted approximately eight weeks before the November 3, 2020 US presidential election.
The researchers found that the intrinsic need for orientation was positively correlated with being registered to vote, with intention to vote in the 2020 US election, and with conscientious voters. Those with a stronger intrinsic need for orientation were more likely to agree with statements such as “One of the first things I do every day is check the news” and “I feel uncomfortable not knowing what’s going on in the world.”
The findings held up even after controlling for news consumption frequency, social media use, political bias and demographic variables.
“News junkies, people with a strong intrinsic need for orientation, are more likely to be registered to vote, to plan to vote in an upcoming election, and to feel guilty if an election is passed and they have not voted then non-news junkies,” Martin and Sharma told PsyPost.
“Avid news consumption does not appear to be the same as heavy video game use, online gambling, or social media use, in that news junkie behavior is often associated with numerous positive outcomes. Given that the newsjunkie trait is positively associated with voting, researchers, educators, and community organizers may want to find ways to enhance the newsjunkie trait in schools and communities.”
But the researchers noted that it’s also possible that being a news junkie is also associated with negative outcomes. “For example, is the news junkie trait strongly correlated with neuroticism, or with anxiety? Do news junkies probably have unfounded fears about the danger of their environment (something media researchers call the “mean-world” phenomenon)? Are news junkies drowning in other healthy activities, such as sleeping and exercising, because they spend so much time following current events?”
“The Dunning-Kruger effect is the tendency of people with low competence in a skill area to dramatically overestimate their skills, and the phenomenon has been widely observed in relation to political knowledge,” added Martin and Sharma. “It will be interesting to see if the Dunning-Kruger effect is more pronounced among news junkies, who may be overconfident because they consume a lot of information, or if news junkies have a more modest judgment of their own abilities because they are regularly reminded how much work it takes effort to keep up with large amounts of news.”
“Future research should also examine how people do or do not become news junkies, by studying the intrinsic need for orientation in adolescents and following the same participants into and through adulthood through panel studies,” the researchers continued. “This may also help us understand how to amplify citizens’ tendency toward news junkies to encourage greater citizen participation.”
The study, “Are News Junkies More Prone to Vote? Intrinsic Need for Orientation and Voter Registration, Voting Intent, and Voter Awareness,” was published May 11, 2022.