Coronavirus coverage is dominating the news at an almost unprecedented level: Between March and April, the share of coronavirus-related news in the main news of the German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF was 60 to 75 percent, the Institut für Empirische Medienforschung (Institute for Empirical Media Research) in Cologne reports. How do people deal with the massive flood of information and how does it affect their behavior? Are they increasingly feeling stressed and if this is the case, it is productive stress or stress with negative consequences? A team of psychologists at the University of Mannheim, headed by Prof. Georg W. Alpers, investigated these questions.
The researchers found out that stress induced by the corona-related flood of information increases compliance with preventive measures. However, if people avoid coronavirus-related news, because it makes them feel distressed, and try to push the topic to the back of their minds, they are less compliant with preventive measures. “Those who turn off the TV or turn the page when they see coronavirus news are less compliant with the regulations imposed by the government”, says Katharina Siebenhaar who conducted the study. However, this has negative consequences, not only on an individual level, but also on society as a whole: “If I avoid information because it is stressing me out, this may be a short-term relief for me as an individual. In the long term, however, this increases the personal risk of infection – and therefore also threatens society”, the psychologist says.
In addition, she finds it interesting that people’s behavior directly relates to their trust in the media. The more the participants trust the newspaper and television news and the higher the media literacy, the less likely it is that they avoid the information.
More than a thousand people participated in the survey. The study was conducted from the end of March until the end of April at the climax of the first pandemic wave. At the beginning of October, the survey results have been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The article is available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.567905.