March 15, 2011— -- The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan are the latest in what seems to be an unending string of crises throughout the world.
Before the news from Japan, the wave of revolt against decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt and Libya dominated the headlines. The anti-government unrest continues in Libya, where forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi are lashing out violently against protesters. But that news now seems to be playing a much smaller supporting role to the events unfolding in Japan.
To psychologists, that shifting of media focus from one part of the world to another means most people will likely lose interest in the struggle for control of Libya. Because of the multitude of world crises that have happened in a short period, people could also become desensitized to these events.
"If events are not kept in front us in the media, they fall in priority unless there is a personal connection," said Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "It's all about Japan right now. There's trauma after trauma, and it's horrific."
With so much media coverage on Japan, Klapow said the only way the situation in Libya will continue to get attention is if people have a personal connection to it. Other experts say a similar loss of interest happened after the earthquake in Haiti last January.
"There was a lot of hoopla, and now, we're four disasters later and Haiti's been sort of forgotten, but it's still a mess there," said Dr. Charles Nemeroff, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
"We only have limited attention, so for people who tend to worry and focus on disasters, there could be a negative impact," said Simon Rego,director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in NewYork. "Other people witnessing these public events, however, may have a much more positive outlook and therefore choose to make a positive impact."
In addition to the Middle Eastern unrest and the earthquake in Haiti, there was the massive BP oil spill, an ongoing war in Afghanistan and the lengthy economic downturn that has sent Americans reeling to name just a few recent major events that have dominated news coverage.