Explaining the appeal of bad news: A critical test of three theories

Date of Completion

January 2001


Mass Communications




The uses and gratifications perspective posits individual needs for stimulation and information vary systematically. These needs can affect which media content is chosen by the individual. This study seeks to determine what motivates people to watch bad news. The theories of emotional education, morbid curiosity and social comparison are pitted against one another in a critical test to determine which is the best predictor of attraction to bad news stories. Participants viewed emotional and gory news clips of the accidental NATO bombing of a Kosovar refugee convoy and responded to items assessing viewing motivations and personality traits. Results showed that Buck's (1998) concept of emotional education was the best predictor of attraction to bad news. Here viewers were attracted to the bad news story because they liked the experience of feeling emotion regardless of the valence. Social comparison and disgust measures were negatively related to positive evaluations of the news story offering little support for morbid curiosity and social support as explanations for the appeal of bad news. Personality traits had little influence on viewing motivations for the appeal of bad news and gender differences were found for various emotions. Women felt more disgust, compassion and negative affect when compared to men. Implications and direction for future research are also discussed. ^