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Public Prevention Behaviors

UD survey indicates heavy news consumers more actively practicing COVID-19 prevention

by | April 9, 2020

Apr 9, 2020

A national survey conducted by University of Delaware communication researchers showed heavy consumers of news are more likely to follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Heavy consumers of news media are engaging in more recommended coronavirus (COVID-19) preventive practices than lighter consumers of news media, according to a new national survey conducted by University of Delaware communication researchers.

The survey showed that this is particularly true among young Americans and self-described liberals.

On average, 75% of adults reported engaging in the majority of recommended social distancing behaviors like keeping six feet away and limiting trips to stores. Slightly fewer (66%) reported habits like washing hands more frequently and avoiding face touching (hygiene), and 41% engaged in preparation behaviors like stocking up on food and medicine.

However, heavy viewers of news, regardless of the source, reported performing the most behaviors across all three types of risk reduction activities.

In the survey, it didn’t matter what particular news source people are choosing. Consuming more news meant following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended behaviors more closely.

“The bottom line is that information matters. The more news people consumed, the more behaviors they were engaging in,” said Amy Bleakley, professor of communication and one of the lead investigators of the project. “There is often a lot of emphasis on specific content when we study media, and where you get your news can usually result in different outcomes, but in the case of COVID-19, we are finding that it’s news exposure in general that really matters. This is a win for public health — the message about what to do is cutting through all the noise and getting out there.”

There were also differences in people’s performance of CDC-recommended behaviors by age and political ideology, but all participants reported engaging in reasonably high levels of risk reduction activities. This is likely attributable to how people rely on media in the content of crises like COVID-19.

“In times of crisis, when we have a lot of media dependency, the differences between people are much less important both in terms of media sources and individual differences,” said Jennifer Lambe, associate professor of communication and a co-investigator on the study. “Effects are more uniform, particularly as the crisis is more life threatening.”