ACHC research on COVID-19 communication and behavior change

Published on August 13, 2020 – Several ACHC researchers have started health communication and behavior change research on COVID-19 in the past months. Our ACHC website now has a dedicated COVID-19 section where news and publications about COVID-19 are collected. Below we summarize some of our pending projects.

The first results of a study by Fam te Poel, Annemiek Linn, Eline Smit and colleagues on information needs and media use of the Dutch population during the COVID-19 crisis have been already published. The results show that traditional media such as newspapers (both online and in paper versions) and news programs are most often used to gather information about the coronavirus. Additionally, the researchers will study the possible consequences of exposure to (online) health information about COVID-19 for the healthcare system. Uncertainty and worries about COVID-19 on the basis of unsubstantiated, fake, conflicting or worrisome (online) information may cause people to unnecessarily contact general practitioners and hospitals to ask questions. That, in turn, could lead to the overburdening of our healthcare. Data are currently collected in a 4-wave COVID-19 panel study during and after the intelligent lockdown in a representative sample of the Dutch population funded by ASCoR and the Digital Communications Methods Lab and preregistered at OSF.

As part of the same ASCoR-COVID-19 panel survey, Alessandra Mansueto, together with Barbara Schouten, Mark Boukes, Julia van Weert, Brittany Chan, Sacha Epskamp and Reinout Wiers investigate the relationship between media consumption, mental well-being, alcohol use, fear of COVID-19, compliance to the COVID-19 recommendations, experienced disadvantages of the lockdown, urbanicity, and ethnic background. They will model the dynamic interactions between these variables as a complex system using network analysis.

In addition, Corine Meppelink, Judith Möller, and Linda Bos are working on a project that investigates the effects of misbeliefs about COVID-19. Specifically, they are interested in the way in which misbeliefs about COVID-19 are caused by certain media consumption patterns, and how this in turn affects people’s adherence to preventive measures such as social distancing. In addition, the role of perceived severity of COVID-19 and perceived efficacy of the prevention measures in this process is examined. Data are currently collected in a the above mentioned ASCoR-COVID-19 panel study.

News about COVID-19 can be accessed all day, every day, but information seeking may not be beneficial for everyone in terms of mental health outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety). By means of an online survey among a panel of Dutch adults (N=500), Melanie de Looper and Monique Alblas investigate to what extent demographical characteristics and psychosocial factors (e.g., coping style and information processing style) predict the amount and type of information people seek regarding COVID-19, and how this in turn predicts mental well-being. The aim of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of whether and for whom information seeking style during a stressful event can impact mental health.

The speed at which people adapt to stop the spread of COVID is impressive. It contrasts with the speed and motivation to adjust behaviour when it comes to other global issues, such as climate change. Why this difference? Marijn Meijers, Healther Torfadottir, Christin Scholz and Anke Wonneberger aim to understand differences in people’s motivations to adapt their behavior (pertaining to COVID-19 and Climate Change). They will use these insights to stimulate behaviors that limit climate change (e.g., environmentally friendly behaviors such as eating less meat). More information about this project can be found here.

The COVID-19 crisis may seriously affect the experience of death and dying for patients, their relatives and healthcare professionals. To learn from current experiences, several researchers work together at the initiative of PALZON to study experiences with end-of-life care during the COVID-19 epidemic. In an open online survey study, both relatives and healthcare professionals are asked questions about their experiences with end-of-life care for a recently deceased relative or patient (not necessarily due to COVID-19).

While governments are struggling to convince their citizens to stay home to keep the coronavirus from spreading, brands are stepping up to help by aligning their brand messages with relevant topics such as social distancing, kindness contagion or personal hygiene. Yet, to what extent does the alignment of brand messages with COVID-19 affect engagement? And to what extent do creativity and timing lead to more exposure, considering that social media timelines are crowded with COVID-related news? In a content analysis of 1,800 brand messages on Twitter, Komala Mazerant, Lotte Willemsen, Peter Neijens and Guda van Noort examine the effectiveness of these messages, aligned with COVID-related topics, and its underlying mechanisms.

In the context of a public health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of the utmost importance that high-quality, science-based information is efficiently distributed through the population. Social media activities such as information sharing strongly impact the flow of information between people. Unfortunately, sharing, liking and commenting aren’t always guided by quality. As a result, widespread exposure to misinformation on social media platforms has been an issue. It is of upmost importance to identify strategies to motivate and guide social media users to share high-quality information and oppose misinformation within their networks. Christin Scholz and Hang-Yee Chan have been working on two projects which aim to contribute to the development of such strategies. In the first project, they designed simple interventions based on recent work in communication neuroscience. It applies neuroimaging to identify psychological mechanisms that motivate individuals to share information with others. The second project goes one step further to promote conscious and responsible engagement with COVID-19 related posts on social media more broadly. The pre-registration for this project can be found at OSF.

ACHC researchers are also involved in international research:

Annemiek Linn, among others, is involved in a large international study that aims to understand students’ risk perception of COVID-19 across the world (e.g., the US, The Netherlands, China, Italy, Belgium, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, and Kuwait). The intention of the general public to adopt protective measures is significantly influenced by high levels of perceived risk, which is most likely determined by the perceived severity and vulnerability to a certain health threat. Therefore, during a new pandemic such as COVID-19, getting information from various sources, such as public health professionals, the government, and the media, can increase people’s awareness about the risk, and consequently, their adoption of preventive measures. This project fundamentally contributes to understanding the risk perception in the world regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eline Smit is investigating in an international study whether self-determination theory (SDT)-guided message framing can increase people’s motivation to participate in social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This study builds upon the idea that autonomy-supportive messages help people understand and internalize the value of behavior change and, as a result, they ‘buy in’ to the desired change, and are more likely to adhere to it over time. Controlling messages, by contrast, pressure people to change using shame, guilt, and threats. Together with SDT-researchers all over the world, Eline will empirically test this idea in order to help well-intentioned communicators to motivate people more effectively.