Doom-Scrolling Tanks Your Mood

How has the news been treating your mental health?

It’s natural—and pretty common—to search for answers and information during times of uncertainty (like during a pandemic). Most of us want to stay informed with what’s going on and how it may affect our loved ones and ourselves. Seeking information is also a strategy that can sometimes ease our minds, help us cope with all of the changes and new challenges of day-to-day life, and empower us to reassert control over a new or unknown situation (like during a pandemic). However, over the course of the pandemic, mental health has taken a toll. Many studies confirm that the levels of stress, anxiety, and depression have increased.

. . . And so has our social media use.

These days, one of our go-to sources to get the answers and information we need is social media. You may have heard the term “doom-scrolling.” It’s when we get caught up scrolling through a seemingly unending cycle of negative news. This is different from “kindness-scrolling” where we’re exposed to positive news, like acts of kindness.

Several studies have confirmed what many of us experience: the more time we spend consuming negative news about the pandemic, the worse our sense of well-being can become, and the more mental distress we feel. 

But some questions remain. Is social media helping us cope better (as we hope) or is it directly tanking our moods? Do people with more distress seek out more news or does the news itself negatively impact mental health? Does it make a difference whether the information we consume is negative or positive? How much doom-scrolling can we do before it takes its toll?

The effects of COVID-19 doom-scrolling and kindness-scrolling on emotional well-being

Psychologists wanted answers to these questions, so they designed the first experiment to test these. Their recent study was published in the journal Plos One. The researchers measured the emotional consequences of seeing COVID-19 news online. They also wanted to find out how much news it took to have an effect, and whether there was a difference between doom-scrolling versus kindness-scrolling. 

They found hundreds of participants and put them into one of these groups: 

  • COVID-19 news (a.k.a. “doom-scrolling”) – posts about COVID-19 numbers, negative health effects, etc.
  • COVID-19 kindness (a.k.a. “kind-scrolling”) – posts about helping others, celebrations of recovery from COVID-19, etc.
  • no COVID-19 information (a.k.a. “control” group) – no social media content.

Participants scrolled through their assigned feeds for 2-4 minutes on either Twitter or YouTube. Then they stopped scrolling and answered a “mood” questionnaire that rated their positive and negative feelings, and compared those feelings to the control group’s results.

What they found was that consuming COVID-19-related news for even a few short minutes significantly reduced positivity. Interestingly, it didn’t increase negativity (negativity stayed the same). These results for doom-scrolling were consistent across both Twitter and YouTube.

When it comes to the participants who were kindness-scrolling for a few minutes, they didn’t experience the same negative effects, nor did they feel significantly more positive. 

How to counter the negative mental health effects of doom-scrolling

The researchers say, “Our findings suggest the importance of being mindful of one’s own news consumption, especially on social media.” This is important because we now know that even 2-4 minutes of doom-scrolling can tank your mood and make you more negative.

Reducing—or eliminating—social media consumption is very difficult. Most of us need to find information we trust, even if it’s bad news. Plus, although many people say they want to delete their social media accounts, studies show that social media use has been rising. If you use social media to stay in touch with friends and family, then one thing you can do is focus on being social with the people you care about, rather than getting caught up in negative headlines. 

Another thing you can do is to try to balance out the negative information in your feed with more positive information. One way to do this is to seek out things that make you happy. Consider following more accounts that share good news, delicious recipes, or even cat videos. ? Plus, if you have an account, consider sharing more positive posts to spread more kindness to your friends, family, and followers.

Finally, when you do find yourself doom-scrolling (as we all do sometimes), try to counteract the negative effect and bolster your own happiness. Aim to meet emotional health needs with self-care like enjoying nutritious meals, working out, managing your stress, or getting enough sleep. You can also consider participating in acts of kindness in real life like volunteering or helping those in need.


It’s probably not realistic to try to avoid all news on social media, as you still need to stay in touch with people and up-to-date with current events that may impact you. With this study, we know that a even a few minutes of negative news can pull down your mood. So, keep in mind that this is perfectly normal, and that you are empowered to counter that effect with supportive and positive actions to care for your emotional well-being—especially when times are stressful. 


Buchanan, K., Aknin, L. B., Lotun, S., & Sandstrom, G. M. (2021). Brief exposure to social media during the COVID-19 pandemic: Doom-scrolling has negative emotional consequences, but kindness-scrolling does not. PloS one, 16(10), e0257728.

Backgrounder article:

About the study:

  • Before this study, research showed that there was a link between mental health and social media use—especially during the pandemic. It wasn’t clear whether people with poorer mental health sought out more negative news or whether the negative news worsened mental health. (This is what is meant by “correlation does not equal causation”—we knew there was a link, but no studies were yet designed to sort out if one thing *caused* the other.) This is why we put more weight on randomized control trials (RCTs) than we do just about all other types of studies. Well-designed RCTs can help sort out if one thing causes another. This study on doom-scrolling was designed to find out by randomly assigning people to groups and having them watch curated feeds of social media and then using standardized tests to measure their emotional state.
  • Here’s a blog post I wrote on the concept of “correlation does not equal causation”:
  • Previous studies on the subject of doom-scrolling asked people how much time they spent on social media (they didn’t measure it). We know that people are naturally not great at accurately estimating things they did in the past, like “time on social media” or “how much broccoli you ate in the past 3 months.” This trial was designed to have a timer on the social media exposure so that all participants watched their social stream (depending on which group they were in) for 2-4 minutes. This short timeframe also allowed researchers to learn about the effects of even brief exposures to different types of posts on social media.
  • “We examine the emotional consequences of exposure to brief snippets of COVID-related news via a Twitter feed (Study 1), or a YouTube reaction video (Study 2). Compared to a no-information exposure group, consumption of just 2–4 minutes of COVID-related news led to immediate and significant reductions in positive affect (Studies 1 and 2) and optimism (Study 2). Exposure to COVID-related kind acts did not have the same negative consequences, suggesting that not all social media exposure is detrimental for well-being.”
  • Conclusion: “Although information-seeking is generally an adaptive coping strategy in times of threat, doing so during a pandemic may be less helpful. Unlike most world events, the threat of the current pandemic affects many life domains (relationships, education, work, leisure), and there is uncertainty about how long it will last, and what will happen next. Even a few minutes of exposure to COVID-related news on social media can ruin a person’s mood. We would all do well to be mindful of these effects and consider balancing our doom-scrolling with some kindness-scrolling.”
  • Because this was an RCT, this study had several strengths including the above-noted designs that people were randomly assigned to a group, their positive and negative affects and optimism were measured right afterward, and the exposure was limited to 2-4 minutes. 
  • While this study didn’t, other studies have shown elevated moods with positive news. More research is always recommended to dive even deeper into these issues and try to answer these questions under different conditions (e.g., 10 minutes of exposure, or platforms other than Twitter and YouTube, or different measures of mental health, etc.) to see if the mental health effects all still point in the same direction or not. ?
  • Therefore, we can say that, according to this study, just 2-4 minutes of COVID-19 news on social media in the midst of a pandemic can decrease your mood. If more, bigger, or stronger studies test for this in different ways and corroborate this finding, we will have a much more robust evidence base to make even more definitive statements. 
  • Study strength is rated a 6/7 according to this chart (randomized control trial):