Experts Explain How Violent Imagery, News Affect Us

| by Sarah Zimmerman
Police officer during the 2011 London RiotsPolice officer during the 2011 London Riots

With what seems like a never-ending cycle of violence in the news, researchers are now focusing their attention on how graphic news imagery affects people.

The rise of digital media means people are bombarded with live videos and pictures of graphic material, including shootings and terrorist attacks. Violent broadcasts often go viral and seem almost commonplace in the news cycle. 

While some viewers become desensitized from the amount of sensitive material that has become normalized in today's society, others can become traumatized. Exposure to violent imagery over social media has caused symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers at the University of Bradford in England found, according to The New York Times.

The Mayo Clinic reports that PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms include nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts.

"With the frequency of shootings and terror attacks there is a sense of anxiety that’s building in people," said psychologist Anita Gadhia-Smith, "a sense of vulnerability and powerlessness."

To cope with these possibly triggering events, psychologists recommend limiting the use of social media and internet. Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says designating times to checking the news and social media feeds could help manage anxiety.

"This will help you balance a realistic and credible threat with information that is sensationalized," Albano to The New York Times, "or a rush to report something or talk about something that doesn’t have the impact that you would think it has."

The news can have a paralyzing affect on some, who become afraid to interact with strangers or to enter populated public places out of fear of an attack. Not knowing when an attack could occur is what exacerbates anxiety and feelings of helplessness. 

"I couldn’t take the subway home last night because I felt like, ‘What if?’" said 19-year-old music student Aba Obiesh the day after the Paris terror attacks in November 2015. "It’s impossible to tell where something might be happening. There’s no planning for something like that."

But, the best thing to do, according to psychologists is to not let that fear rule your life and continue living according to a daily routine. 

“Terrorists thrive on this kind of thing,” said Albano. “They want to see the population change their practices.”

Sources: The New York Times (2), The Mayo Clinic / Photo credit: Flickr

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