How Motivation to Reduce Uncertainty Predicts COVID-19 Behavioral Responses: Strategic Health Communication Insights for Managing an Ongoing Pandemic

Sungsu Kim (PhD alum), Sung In Choi (PhD candidate), Chiara Valentini, Mark Badham, and Yan Jin. (forthcoming). “How Motivation to Reduce Uncertainty Predicts COVID-19 Behavioral Responses: Strategic Health Communication Insights for Managing an Ongoing Pandemic.” American Behavioral Scientist.

Abstract: During highly uncertain times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to understand and predict individuals’ responses to governments’ crisis and risk communication. This study draws on the Orientation-Stimulus-Orientation-Response (O-S-O-R) model to examine (1) whether uncertainty reduction motivation (a pre-orientation factor) drove Americans to turn to traditional news media and/or social media (stimuli) to obtain COVID-19 information; (2) if these media preferences shaped their COVID-19 knowledge, cognitive information vetting, and trust in government communication (post-orientation factors); and finally (3) whether these factors contributed to their intended and actual behaviors (responses), such as getting vaccinated. Thus, this study explores how multiple communicative and cognitive mechanisms contribute to public compliance with government health recommendations during a pandemic. Mediation analyses showed positive indirect effects between uncertainty reduction motivation and behavioral outcomes via use of social media (in relation to traditional news media) and COVID-19 knowledge and cognitive information vetting. This study discusses theoretical and practical health communication implications of these findings.

Effects of Individuals’ Cultural Orientations and Trust in Government Health Communication Sources on Behavioral Intentions During a Pandemic: A Cross-Country Study

Sung In Choi (PhD candidate), Sungsu Kim (PhD alum), Yan Jin, Chiara Valentini, Mark Badham, Elanor Colleoni, and Stefania Romenti (In press). “Effects of Individuals’ Cultural Orientations and Trust in Government Health Communication Sources on Behavioral Intentions During a Pandemic: A Cross-Country Study.” Health Communication.

Abstract: Public health messages disseminated by trusted government authorities are likely to have more influence over individuals’ intentions and behaviors. However, individuals worldwide have different levels of trust in government authorities, which leads to varying levels of compliance intentions. Additionally, these trust levels may vary during major public crises, such as pandemics. Based on a COVID-19 pandemic communication survey (N = 3,065) disseminated throughout six countries (Australia, Finland, Italy, South Korea, Sweden, and the United States), this study examined the association among trust in distinct government sources, cultural orientations, and health behavioral intentions. Findings indicated that trust in official health communication sources at four governmental levels (i.e., national government, the head of the national government, the national health authority, and the chief representative of the national health authority) was related to vaccination intentions and other behavioral compliance intentions (i.e., willingness to prevent COVID-19 infection in other ways). Meanwhile, these direct associations were mediated by the cultural orientations of power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Findings also revealed that the direct association of trust in government sources and the indirect relationship through the above cultural orientations varied by country. This study offers insight into the important role of credible sources and individuals’ cultural orientations in the domain of health communication aimed at influencing behavioral intentions.

Tools and Techniques for Building & Sustaining Trust in Health Information

Glen Nowak was an invited panelist for a session on “Tools and Techniques for Building & Sustaining Trust in Health Information,” at National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media, Aug. 16-18 in Atlanta. The session provided health communication professionals with a first-hand look at the future of mitigating dis/misinformation in the public health space. The panel included presentations from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Convergence Accelerator Program, which is sponsoring the development and testing of innovative tools and ideas designed to strengthen health communication and build public trust.

Effective Communication Management in a Public Health Crisis: Lessons Learned about COVID-19 Pandemic through the Lens of Health Communication Executives

Taylor Voges (PhD candidate), Yan Jin, LaShonda Eaddy (PhD alum), Shelley Spector. (forthcoming). “Effective Communication Management in a Public Health Crisis: Lessons Learned about COVID-19 Pandemic through the Lens of Health Communication Executives.” Journal of Communication Management.

Abstract: This study aims to provide insights on the COVID-19 pandemic communication from the lessons learned by health communication executives—how they perceived the COVID-19 pandemic and recommend preparing for communication management of future public health crisis. A number of top health communication executives in the United States were interviewed, for their unique perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic. The contingency theory of strategic conflict management is used for qualitative deductive analysis, rendering several segmentations of key factors that drove organizational communication management decision making during the pandemic: organization characteristics, relationship characteristics, general external climate, external publics, and the issue under question. Health communication executives heavily relied on their past health communication experiences, which led to nuanced understandings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Theoretically, the contingency theory is furthered via an implied theoretical linkage between the construct of general external climate and the construct of external publics. Practically, the health communication executives urged future practitioners to constantly assess risks, hire and use diverse and representative decision-makers; set a communication protocol; and keep the communication in perspective.

Bridging the Fear and Hope: A Smartphone Eye-Tracking Examination of the Effects of Hope in Fear-based Health Messages

Abstract: This study used a smartphone eye-tracking approach to examine understudied areas in health communication – hope in fear appeal – when people are exposed to differential emotional shifts with fear and hope on social media. In an image presentation with 4 (fear only vs. fear-then-hope vs. fear and hope vs. hope-then-fear) between-subjects eye-tracking experiment, participants viewed Instagram posts with variation of emotional shifts, then answered a questionnaire containing measures including perceived self-efficacy and intent to engagement of diabetes preventive behavior. Results indicated that emotional shift from fear to hope influences message processing through raising participants’ perceptions of self-efficacy compared to fear-only image social media content. The research also showed that fear-based images increased people’s attention to efficacy information followed by fear and hope, fear-then-hope, and hope-then-fear condition. Implications for health communication theory and practice are further discussed.

Toward an integrated model of healthy food choice: Examining the moderated mediation effects via online search for nutrition information

Abstract: When numerous reasons behind the obesity problem, such as eating junk food, consuming too many calories, sedentary lifestyle, and other individual-centric causes may not be easily erased, several factors were found to lead people to better healthy eating habits and lifestyles. This study was designed to test a proposed model that consisted of various dynamic factors toward healthy food choice. Results showed that online search for nutrition information was significantly affected by obesity knowledge, but not by BMI. Then, online search for nutrition information would affect healthy food choice, while self-efficacy also promoted healthy food choice. Moreover, online search for nutrition information and self-efficiency jointly yielded a significant impact on healthy food choice. Both practical and theoretical implications were discussed.

The Persuasive Effects of Narrative PSAs on COVID-19 Vaccination Intention: The Mediating Role of Empathy and Psychological Reactance

Abstract: Successful COVID-19 vaccine promotion for the unvaccinated relies on increasing positive reactions but also reducing negative responses to persuasive messages. The current study examined the relative effects of narrative vs. non-narrative public service announcements (PSAs) promoting COVID-19 vaccination on both positive and negative reactions. We explored the role of empathy and psychological reactance as underlying mechanisms. Results of an experiment involving unvaccinated young adults indicate that the narrative (vs. non-narrative) PSAs led to greater empathy. While no direct effects of message type emerged on psychological reactance or vaccination intention, results of a serial multi-mediator model confirmed that empathy and psychological reactance mediated the effects of message type on vaccination intention, yielding theoretical and practical implications for research and practice in COVID-19 vaccination and health communication.

Factors that Impact COVID-19 Conspirational Beliefs and Health-Related Behaviors

Abstract: To further investigate the role of conspirational beliefs on health-related behaviors during a health pandemic such as COVID-19, we conducted an online survey among U.S. adults (N = 798) to examine: (1) the strengths of different groups of individual-level variables in predicting conspiracy beliefs about COVID-19 and related health behaviors; and (2) the role of beliefs in conspiracy theories about COVID-19 in mediating the relationship between individual differences and COVID-19 health-related behaviors. Our findings provide implications to pandemic communication theory and practice.

Trust and Cultural Factors Shaping COVID-19 Vaccination Intentions across Six Countries

Abstract: Based on a COVID-19 pandemic communication survey (N = 3,124) in Australia, Finland, Italy, South Korea, Sweden, and the United States, our study examined how trust in government sources affects the vaccination intention and how this translates into cross-national variations in the outcome. Our findings revealed that the direct effect of trust in government sources on vaccination intention and the indirect effect via power distance and uncertainty avoidance varied across the six countries.