Study: People Desensitized to COVID by Over-Exposure in Media

A study out of University of California-Davis shows society is becoming more desensitized to COVID as reports of the fast-spreading Delta variant now dominate the news cycle.

Last year it was COVID anxiety, leading to shortages of toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Americans now are shrugging of reports of rising cases to resume their daily lives and travel around the country.

“The public has been repeatedly exposed to scary media reports of COVID-19 health risks and deaths, so it's not surprising that over time individuals are experiencing diminished anxiety even the face of an increasing threat,” says Hannah Stevens, a doctoral student in communication and lead author of the report.

Stevens and her team examined people's reactions and expressions of anxiety about news articles on Twitter and to fear-inducing health news as the death toll climbed higher.

“Desensitization helps people cope with scary experiences,” says Stevens. “So when we're repeatedly exposed to something frightening or stressful, we kind of get accustomed to it or at least we respond less strongly to it.”

Stevens says there's no way to re-sensitize people to COVID, so it's important to figure out the right messaging ahead of the next health crisis.

“We do need to be mindful of this and think of new ways of communicating with the public that aren't based in fear messages or are not rooted in emotion.”

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