New research has found that watching Donald Trump’s White House briefings was associated with reduced intentions to follow public health guidelines intended stop the spread of COVID-19 in 2020. The study, published in the journal Health Communication, indicates that the type of media that people consume during the pandemic is related to their beliefs about COVID-19.
“This study was designed at the early stage of COVID-19 when the world witnessed massive infodemic and politicization of public health issues,” said study author Myojung Chung, an assistant professor of journalism and media advocacy at Northeastern University.
“In particular, even official sources were not always trustworthy, occasionally spreading ungrounded information. The situation made us curious how health information from different media outlets or sources leads to different health perceptions and behaviors.”
Between June 3 and June 7, 2020, Chung and her colleague surveyed 1,106 U.S. residents regarding their use of various media sources and their coronavirus-related attitudes and intentions.
The researchers provided the participants with a list of liberal and conservative new sources – such as BuzzFeed and The Daily Caller, among others – and asked them to indicate which ones they frequently used to obtain information about the novel coronavirus. The participants also indicated how often they used Trump’s briefings, health organizations’ (e.g., CDC, WHO) briefings, social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), and national TV, radio and/or newspapers to get information about COVID-19.
“This study found that depending on the main information source during the COVID-19 pandemic, people differently perceive the risk and show different levels of intentions to adopt risk preventive behaviors. Such results suggest that in times when there can be abundant false and misleading information, the importance of accurate, fair, and balanced risk information comes to the fore. Also, this study informs average news consumers of the necessity of balanced media use during public health crises like COVID-19.”
Those who frequently consumed conservative media and used Trump’s briefings to obtain information were less likely to view coronavirus as a severe health problem, less likely to view public health advice as effective, and less likely to view public health advice as easy to follow. This, in turn, was associated with reduced intentions to wear a mask in public, frequently wash hands, maintain social distance from others, and stay home if feeling unwell.
“This study was conducted when Donald Trump from the Republican Party was the U.S. president. We are curious how the results would be if this study was conducted in the current administration with a Democratic president,” Chung said.
Those who got their COVID-19 information from liberal media, health organizations’ briefings and traditional media were more likely to view coronavirus as a severe health problem and more likely to view public health advice as easy to follow. This, in turn, was associated with increased intentions to adopt risk preventative behaviors.
Participants who used liberal and traditional media also viewed themselves as being at greater risk of being infected by the deadly virus, while those who used social media to get information about COVID-19 perceived themselves as being less at risk.
The researchers controlled for potentially cofounding variables such as age, gender, race, education, household income, experience with COVID-19, and political views. But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“This study examined respondents’ intentions to follow public health recommendations to prevent COVID-19 infection, but not their actual behaviors. Future research that examines actual behaviors would provide a more complete understanding of the role of different media use,” Chung explained.
“Because we used cross-sectional data, it is difficult to assure any causal inferences in this study. Future studies that employ experiments or longitudinal intervention would help to better our understanding of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The study, “Red Media, Blue Media, Trump Briefings, and COVID-19: Examining How Information Sources Predict Risk Preventive Behaviors via Threat and Efficacy,” was authored by Myojung Chung and S. Mo Jones-Jang.