Overinformation makes us insensitive to Covid-19 and other pandemics

We have gone from accumulating toilet paper or flour to make bread, from incessantly washing our hands and not leaving the house, to, 11 months later, ignore most warnings to avoid contagion with the virus that causes Covid-19, according to research by the University of California-Davis (USA).

The researchers examined people’s interactions and expressions of anxiety about news articles on Twitter. In addition, they investigated the reactions to health news that induce fear over time, despite the constant increase in the death toll from Covid-19, notes Hannah Stevens, main author of the article.

The paper, published in the “Journal of Medical Internet Research Infodemiology,” looks at how the Covid-19 news articles shared on Twitter with anxiety-filled tweets early in the pandemic became first known, during a coincidental peak in cases. panic, extreme social distancing and quarantine measures.

They warn that if another health crisis occurs today, or Covid-19 worsens again, “it is essential that public health experts consider that they are communicating with an insensitive public.

However, despite the increased number of deaths, those behaviors eventually gave way to less concerned responses to the Covid-19 news, along with increased social risk-taking during that time frame.

«Covid-19 has left an indelible mark on history, and now is the time to consider what went wrong so that we can better communicate more effectively during future health crises, and even now, as the delta variant becomes more widespread, ”says Stevens.

“First of all, we must understand how and why news from terrifying health lost impact over timedespite the rapid increase in the death toll. ‘

The authors set out to test the hypothesis that early health messages based on fear They motivated people to take steps to control the threat, but overexposure to these messages desensitized people, or made them less likely to feel anxious over time.

Over a period of 11 months, the team used a computerized methodology to analyze the levels of linguistic anxiety in hundreds of news articles about Covid-19 on Twitter, along with the anxiety levels in the tweets of the corresponding users. The results were then correlated with the Covid-19 death toll in the US.

Testing the effectiveness of various health risk communication strategies could mean the difference between life and death in the future

«Our study shows the need to delve into how to re-sensitize and motivate the public to act in the event of an ongoing emergency. Testing the effectiveness of various health risk communication strategies could mean the difference between life and death in the future, ”Stevens said.

And they warn that if another health crisis occurs today, or Covid-19 worsens again, “it is essential that public health experts consider that are communicating with an insensitive audience».