THURSDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Older people prefer to
read negative news stories about the young, possibly because it
makes them feel better about themselves, a new study suggests.
"The more time they spent with negative news about young people, the higher self-esteem they reported. They may get some self-esteem boost out of this," said study author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, an associate professor at Ohio State University's School of Communication.
As for young people in the study, they weren't particularly
drawn to stories about older people, or to negative stories about
Overall, the findings suggest that people "are not just neutral
processors of information. They have a lot of biases in their
selections," said Knobloch-Westerwick.
The researchers recruited 178 young people (aged 18 to 30) and
98 older people (aged 50 to 65) in Germany and asked them to read
news stories online. The participants were able to choose which
stories they wanted to read.
Some of the stories were "human-interest" pieces that focused on
a specific person. The researchers wanted to figure out if the
participants had a preference for stories that were about bad
things happening to non-celebrities (losing a malpractice suit, for
instance) or good things (winning a malpractice suit).
The findings appear in the September issue of the
Journal of Communication.
Why did the older people prefer negative stories about younger
people? When it came to stories about older people -- like
themselves -- they had no preference for positive versus
Society tends to assign older people to a lower status than
younger people, Knobloch-Westerwick explained. Looking for negative
stories about the young -- those with a higher status -- may help
older people feel better, she said.
Also, "everybody likes to think they're better than other people
in some way," she said. "If you get information that confirms that,
you might like it."
This could explain why older people who chose negative stories
about the young had higher self-esteem.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor who studies happiness
at the University of California, Riverside, said the study
conflicts with other research that shows happier people "don't
compare themselves to people who are worse off."
Lyubomirsky added, "They feel good about themselves, and they
don't need it. It's like putting someone down to make yourself feel
So why does this research matter? It helps shed light on how
people make decisions about what they read, Knobloch-Westerwick
"We think people are rational and they use the news to stay up to date as part of the democratic process," she said. "But a lot of other factors play a role. You like to see your own group do well, and get a self-esteem boost out of it."
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