Psychological mechanisms of sharing health news

Published on May 5, 2022 – During a fast-developing crisis, like a pandemic, high quality information needs to spread quickly through society. Social media can facilitate this information diffusion. ACHC-researchers Hang-Yee Chan and Christin Scholz, together with colleagues from American universities, studied psychological mechanisms that underlie health information sharing. 

Information transmission in a society among others depends on individuals’ intention to share information with others or not. Yet, little is known about whether being the gatekeeper shapes the brain’s processing of incoming information. In this study, recently published in the academic journal Cerebral Cortex, we examine how thinking about sharing health news affects neural encoding of information, and whether this effect is moderated by the person’s real-life social network position.

In a fMRI study, participants rated abstracts of health news articles on how much they wanted to read for themselves (read) or—as information gatekeepers—to share with a specific other (narrowcast), or to post on their social media feed (broadcast). Across conditions, consistent spatial blood oxygen level-dependent patterns associated with news articles were observed, in brain regions involved in perceptual and language processing as well as higher-order processes. However, when thinking about sharing, encoding consistency decreased in higher-order processing areas (e.g., default mode network), suggesting that the gatekeeper role involves more individualized processing in the brain, that is, person- and context-specific processing. Moreover, participants whose social networks had high ego-betweenness centrality (i.e., more likely to be information gatekeeper in real life) showed more individualized encoding when thinking about broadcasting. This study reveals how health information gatekeeping shapes our brain’s processing of incoming information.

Full article: Chan, H. Y., Scholz, C., Baek, E. C., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2021). Being the Gatekeeper: How Thinking about Sharing Affects Neural Encoding of Information. Cerebral Cortex31(8), 3939-3949.