'Bad news' stories appear to boost reactivity to stressors in women, not men
TORONTO - It's said that no news is good news. But what's the effect of bad news in the media?
For women, exposure to negative news stories may make them more reactive to subsequent stressful situations, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, which did not see that same response in men.
Researchers also found that women had a better recollection of information learned from those so-called bad news stories.
"Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded with news in the newspaper, the radio, on the TV. And now with Facebook and online press and Twitter, you are constantly bombarded with information," said lead author Marie-France Marin, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Montreal.
"It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there.
"And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case."
To conduct the study, researchers recruited 56 subjects, aged 18 to 35, and divided them into four groups, two for each gender. Each group was given several articles to read from two daily Montreal newspapers.
One group of men and a group of women read "neutral" news stories, about subjects such as the opening of a new park or the premiere of a film, while the other two gender-segregated groups read " bad news" stories, about such events as murders or traffic accidents.
Saliva samples were taken from each participant and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured within minutes of having read the stories.
The researchers found that cortisol levels were stable in all groups right after reading the articles — no matter the subject matter. Then each participant was put through a series of stressful tasks and their cortisol was measured again.
Researchers found the women who had been exposed to negative news were more reactive to this psychosocial stressor, as indicated by elevated cortisol levels, compared with men exposed to bad news and to the males and females who read neutral stories.
The next day, all participants were given memory recall tests, said Marin.
"The women were able to remember more of the details of the negative stories," she said. "It is interesting to note that we did not observe this phenomenon amongst the male participants."
The differences between how men and women react when exposed to negative news may be evolutionary, say the researchers. Scientists have speculated that an emphasis on the survival of offspring may have influenced the evolution of the female stress system, leading women to be more empathetic.
"So this might be one reason why women were more affected," Marin said.