The term “doomscrolling” describes the act of endlessly scrolling through bad news on social media and reading every worrisome tidbit that pops up, a habit that unfortunately seems to have become common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biology of our brains may play a role in that. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified specific areas and cells in the brain that become active when an individual is faced with the choice to learn or hide from information about an unwanted aversive event the individual likely has no power to prevent.
The findings, published June 11 in Neuron, could shed light on the processes underlying psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety — not to mention how all of us cope with the deluge of information that is a feature of modern life.
“People’s brains aren’t well equipped to deal with the information age,” said senior author Ilya Monosov, PhD, an associate professor of neuroscience, of neurosurgery and of biomedical engineering. “People are constantly checking, checking, checking for news, and some of that checking is totally unhelpful. Our modern lifestyles could be resculpting the circuits in our brain that have evolved over millions of years to help us survive in an uncertain and ever-changing world.”