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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47189. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047189. Epub 2012 Oct 10.

There is no news like bad news: women are more remembering and stress reactive after reading real negative news than men.

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Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Mental Health Research Centre Fernand-Seguin, Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


With the advent of specialized television channels offering 24-hour coverage, Internet and smart phones, the possibility to be constantly in contact with the media has increased dramatically in the last decades. Despite this higher access to knowledge, the impact media exposure has on healthy individuals remains poorly studied. Given that most information conveyed in the media is negative and that upon perception of threat, the brain activates the stress system, which leads to cortisol secretion, we decided to determine how healthy individuals react to media information. Accordingly, we investigated whether reading real negative news (1) is physiologically stressful, (2) modulates one's propensity to be stress reactive to a subsequent stressor and (3) modulates remembrance for these news. Sixty participants (30 women, 30 men) were randomly assigned to either twenty-four real neutral news excerpts or to twenty-four real negative excerpts for 10 minutes. They were then all exposed to a well-validated psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which consists of an anticipation phase of 10 minutes and a test phase of 10 minutes. A total of eight salivary cortisol samples were collected, at 10-minutes intervals, throughout the experimental procedure. One day later, a free recall of the news was performed. Results showed that although reading negative news did not lead to change in cortisol levels (p>0.05), it led to a significant increase in cortisol to a subsequent stressor in women only (p<0.001). Also, women in the negative news condition experienced better memory for these news excerpts compared to men (p<0.01). These results suggest a potential mechanism by which media exposure could increase stress reactivity and memory for negative news in women.

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