Media Exposure and Protective Behaviors in a Public Health Emergency

Project: Research

View graph of relations


Massive emergencies such as public-health threats occur frequently, and have significant social impact. People seek information on public emergencies from all channels, and the coverage of these events by the media often provides the most important sources of information. The extensive media coverage of an emergency affects people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards the issues involved, and ultimately influences their reactions to the crisis in ways that may have both immediate and long-term consequences for society. The changes in perceptions, attitudes and behaviour wrought by media messages have important implications for public interests and social stability, especially in the case of public-health emergencies.For instance, the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 generated extensive media coverage, which not only provided information on the pandemic but affected people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards it, with a variety of important consequences for society. The H1N1 influenza event is now in its post-pandemic stage, but public-health emergencies with considerable social effects continue to occur regularly. When a public-health emergency or another kind of massive emergency takes place, it is crucial to understand people’s responses to the crisis to ensure that proper measures are taken to control the situation and reduce the negative effects of the emergency on society. An event such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic provides a useful opportunity to observe people’s reactions to a public-health emergency accompanied by extensive media coverage, and the kinds of protective behaviour they choose to adopt. It also enables investigation of the factors that influence the behaviour of the public in response to public-health and other kinds of massive emergencies.To date, most empirical studies of preventive behaviour have focused on intentions and actions towards specific health threats such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes, and the factors that influence intended and actual responses to these threats. Few studies have addressed the effects of exposure to the media and other sources of information on public perceptions, attitudes, intentions and behaviour during a public-health emergency. Furthermore, the effects of media messages on preventive behaviour were often tested with fear appeal whereas the messages were artificially constructed to target specific groups of people. Although such studies provide useful insights into the effects of the media under certain conditions, fear appeal messages are notably different from the media messages published during a public-health emergency. The degree to which media messages affect people’s attitudes towards and responses to a massive public-health emergency thus remains unclear.The longitudinal survey conducted in this study will fill the above void in the existing research by testing a model of protective behaviour in response to a public-health emergency with pervasive media coverage. The study will explore the effects of exposure to media messages and information from other sources on perceptions of a public-health threat and perceived efficacy; the extent to which the perceived threat elicits fear; and how perceived threat and perceived efficacy interact to produce danger-control or fear-control outcomes. We will conduct the study in two stages. First, we will examine people’s perceptions of the media coverage of a public-health emergency, and the general patterns of public behaviour in response to past emergencies. Second, we will investigate the effects of extensive media coverage on the perceived threat of an emergency and the perceived efficacy, and examine the extent to which media messages and information from other sources arouse fear and affect people’s responses to a massive public-health emergency.


Project number9042116
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1520/01/20

    Research areas

  • Social impact of crisis,Media effects,Social behaviour,Health communication,