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Tragic News Reports Weigh More Heavily on Women: Study

Physiological response was evident in reaction to later events

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 10, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Bad news in the media increases women's sensitivity to stressful situations but does not affect men, a new study finds.

University of Montreal researchers asked 60 people to read actual news stories. The articles were either neutral stories about events such as the opening of a new park or the premiere of a film, or negative stories about events such as accidents and murders.

Before and after the participants read the news stories, the researchers collected saliva samples in order to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Higher levels of the hormone indicate higher levels of stress.

After reading the news stories, the participants were given memory and intellect tasks designed to evaluate how they react to stressful situations. Saliva samples were collected again after this part of the study.

"Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations," study lead author Marie-France Marin said in a university news release.

She and her colleagues found that women who read negative news stories had higher cortisol levels after doing the stressful tasks than women who read neutral news stories. This difference was not seen in men.

The study was published Oct. 10 in the journal PLoS One.

"It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there," Marin said. "And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case."

Additional studies are needed to learn more about how negative news affects different people, she added. Although the study found an association between reading negative news stories and increased stress, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about stress.

SOURCE: University of Montreal, news release, Oct. 10, 2012
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