Posted: 2021-09-11 19:00:00
Context: Public health officials and celebrities use social media to provide guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Messages apply different promotional strategies to motivate behavior change, likely yielding divergent reactions from partisan audiences. The Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) suggests that perceived threat for a negative outcome should impact perceived need for the advocated health behavior, which should be more appealing to an audience if perceived it to be efficacious and feasible. Objective: This study examines the interactive effects of Tweet source, message emotional appeal, and audience political affiliation on US adults' perceptions of COVID-19 threat and social distancing efficacy during early months of the pandemic. Design and setting: This online survey experiment applies the EPPM to assess US adults' reactions to tweets encouraging social distancing. The experiment tests 3 emotional appeals (fear, humor, and neutral) and 2 sources (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] and celebrity) on adults' emotional reactions and perceptions of COVID-19 threat and social distancing efficacy. Participants: The final sample included 415 US adults (242 Democrat and 173 Republican) recruited through Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Main outcome measures: Outcome measures were adapted from the EPPM and include perceived susceptibility to and severity of COVID-19, and response efficacy and self-efficacy regarding social distancing. Each was measured through the survey on a 7-point response scale. Results: Humor and fear appeal messages evoked less fear and guilt responses than a neutral tweet from the CDC. Fear and guilt emotions predicted greater perceived threat, while hope and pride predicted efficacy constructs in relationships moderated by political ideology. Conclusions: Public health messages targeting a bipartisan audience through social media may increase perceived threat by inducing fear of COVID-19 infection. EPPM theory suggests boosting efficacy is also critical to message acceptance and behavior change; thus, inducing feelings of hope and pride in addition to fear may be particularly effective.
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