A new study from the University of California, Davis suggests that when people’s days are filled with news of mass shootings, police malfeasance, and me too courtroom escapades, they turn to entertainment media, where they watch more negativity.
Scientists have known for a long time that people use media to regulate their feelings. Assistant professor of communication and study co-author Richard Huskey was curious as to why some people would choose to watch a Disney animated film while others would opt for a holocaust biopic.
From 2020 to 2023, researchers observed hundreds of people in their study with a persistent preference for negative media. This preference was present during both months with and without a pandemic. All adults under the age of 50 showed this outcome. The media preferences of people aged 50 and up appear to shift toward more escapism and less realism.
The research, which entailed conducting three separate experiments in computational decision-making, was published in the Journal of Communication.
“Our results support the proposed mathematical formalization of affective attributes’ influence on media selection, challenge core predictions drawn from MMT, and introduce a new mechanism (response caution) for media selection,” according to researchers.