Some viewers may find this distressing: How watching harrowing footage on the news can bring on post-traumatic stress
Watching hours of footage from war zones or in the aftermath of terrorist attacks can cause post-traumatic stress symptoms Experts said their findings were particularly relevant in time of social media
11:16 GMT, 5 September 2012
Millions tune in to the news each evening to catch up on the day's events. But now scientists say watching distressing footage could have a long-lasting impact on mental health.
A study found repeated exposure to violent images following terrorist attacks and from war zones led to an increase in physical and psychological ailments among a cross-section of American viewers.
Researchers from UC Irvine said the study sheds light on the lingering
effects 'collective traumas' can have when a population is fed a steady diet of graphic media images.
Devastation: The twin towers of the World Trade Center shortly after they were hit by two planes on September 11, 2001
However, study leader Roxane Cohen Silver said: 'I would not advocate restricting nor
censoring war images for the psychological well-being of the public.
'Instead, I think it's important for people to be aware
that there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic
images of horror.'
The study included assessments of more than 1,000 participants' health in the weeks before and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the initiation of the Iraq war in 2003.
It also looked at their media exposure and acute stress responses.
Researchers found people who watched more than four hours a day of 9/11 and Iraq War-related television coverage were more likely to report both acute and post-traumatic stress symptoms over time.
They were also more likely to report doctor-diagnosed physical health ailments two to three years later.
U.S soldiers return fire in Baghdad in 2003: Viewers were most affected by seeing soldiers in action during the Iraq War
Seeing two particular kinds of images in the early days of the Iraq War was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms over time: soldiers engaged in battle and dead U.S. and Allied soldiers.
'The results suggest that exposure to graphic media images may be an important mechanism through which the impact of collective trauma is dispersed widely,' Silver says.
'Our findings are both relevant and timely as vivid images reach larger audiences than ever before through YouTube, social media and smartphones.
'When we consider that graphic images
of individuals being overcome by the 2011 tsunami in Japan were shown
repeatedly, that a vigorous debate occurred last year regarding the
release of the gruesome death photos of Osama bin Laden, and that vivid
and disturbing images of 9/11 will likely appear on our television
screens marking the anniversary of the attacks, we believe that our
paper has something important to say regarding the impact of repeated
exposure to graphic traumatic images.'
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study appears in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.