Watching Right-Wing Media Is Associated With Higher COVID-19 Infection Rates And Death

A recent study on compliance with health recommendations investigated the effects of exposure to partisan media on our attitudes and behaviors. Understanding the value-attitude relations towards public health information is important to structure an effective media narrative. This is to successfully minimize the harm of the coronavirus caused by non-compliance with health recommendations. Moreover it sheds a light on the importance of a healthy, bi-partisan media diet.

tl;dr

Exposure to right-wing media has been shown to relate to lower perceived threat from COVID- 19, lower compliance with prophylactic measures against it, and higher incidence of infection and death. What features of right-wing media messages account for these effects? In a preregistered cross-sectional study (N = 554) we test a model that differentiates perceived consequences of two CDC recommendations—washing hands and staying home—for basic human values. People who consumed more right-wing media perceived these behaviors as less beneficial for their personal security, for the well-being of close ones, and the well-being of society at large. Perceived consequences of following the CDC recommendations mediated the relationship between media consumption and compliance with recommendations. Implications for public health messaging are discussed.

Make sure to read the full paper titled Why is right-wing media consumption associated with lower compliance with COVID-19 measures? by Vladimir Ponizovskiy, Lusine Grigoryan and Wilhelm Hofmann at https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/5b3cn

Source: Sean Hannity, Media using coronavirus coverage as political weapon, Published on March 10, 2020 by Fox News on YouTube

Under the theory of planned behavior, a triad of beliefs (attitude towards the coronavirus, normative acceptance of coronavirus personal protective measures, and control of adherence to coronavirus health information) feeds into a consumer’s evaluation to form intent to behave in a certain way. A recent German study applied the theory of planned behavior to predict a consumer’s attitude towards health information recommending to frequently wash hands and to observe stay-at-home guidance to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Specifically the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Research in health communications demonstrated that even when the health information is intentionally designed to evoke a behavioral change, relevant and non-redundant, the actual behavioral change in the consumer is negligible.

Now most beliefs do not necessarily result in behavioral change. It requires a certain type of belief: value-instantiating beliefs (VIB). These are personal beliefs derived from perceived consequences of objects, actions or events that are measured against personal values. For example, a value might be security of family and self. An action might be compliance with health information. Sentences such as “COVID-19 is dangerous”, “Social distancing restricts my freedom” or “Masks offer no protection” demonstrate the range of strength and impact on the value-attitude relations of a consumer. This study applied VIBs to differentiate consumer compliance with simple coronavirus protections based on their exposure to either right-wing or left-wing media. Right-wing media were represented by Fox News, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Breitbart. Left-wing media were represented by CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Here the underlying hypothesis rests on the idea that right-wing media, in direct comparison to left-wing media, is less likely to present COVID-19 health information in the form of CDC recommendations as positive and is more prone towards downplaying the protective measures over individual liberty or personal self-determination. Therefore, the researchers focused on features of COVID-19 information that is likely to induce an assessment or a behavioral change, i.e. recommendations designed to stress the importance of hygiene and self-isolation within one’s personal bubble in the context of COVID-19. The goal was to map out relevant elements that influence attitudes towards COVID-19 protection measures and the behavioral compliance with them. 

They found that consumers of right-wing media register CDC recommendations as less meaningful to their security and in line with their values. This results in less positive attitude towards COVID-19 health information and lower compliance with simple coronavirus protections. In other words, the more Fox News a person consumed, the more indifferent was that person’s attitude towards the positive effects that washing the hands and staying at home has on their health. This led to higher infection rates and death. The researchers were limited by a number of factors, however, ranging from establishing causality between media consumption that translated into behavior and tracking these changes over a longer time period. They were nevertheless able to demonstrate that not just individual health but the health of the general public and its ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is influenced by the accuracy of the presentation of health information concerning COVID-19 and highlighted the associated risks of ignoring them. This research helps media professionals to reframe their presentation of health information and it offers valuable insights to develop countermeasures against political abuse of health information through partisan media.

COVID-19
Get the latest information from the CDC about COVID-19          

Wear a mask over your nose and mouth to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
 
Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from others who don’t live with you.

Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.  
Wash your hands often.

More information on how to protect yourself and others from contracting the coronavirus can be found here: 
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html

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