The Human Alarm System for Sensational News, Online News Headlines, and Associated Generic Digital Footprints: A Uses and Gratifications Approach

Yu Leung NG*, Xinshu ZHAO

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

By adopting the uses and gratifications approach to understand two evolutionary needs—the environmental surveillance need and social involvement need—this study investigated the use of alarm and prosocial words in news headlines and the associated generic digital footprints. We analyzed over 170,000 online news headlines and the number of associated clicks and “likes” for each news story on an online news platform. Our results support the idea of a human alarm system for sensational news as a psychological survival mechanism designed to detect and pay attention to threatening news such as catastrophes and diseases. News headlines with alarm words indirectly attracted more “likes,” indicating a concern with survival, through an increased number of clicks to select that news item. Furthermore, the results of a conditional indirect effect model showed that while online readers selectively clicked on news headlines with alarm words, the presence of a prosocial word in the headline increased the likelihood that readers would “like” it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-275
Number of pages25
JournalCommunication Research
Volume47
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Human alarm system
  • News headlines
  • Online news platform
  • Prosociality
  • Sensational news
  • Uses and gratifications

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