Conflicting health information compromises attention and emotional responses – sciencedaily


The 24-hour news cycle and social media bombardment often resulting in conflicting messages about health issues could make it harder than ever to make critical decisions, according to research conducted by Rutgers.

The study, published in Journal of Behavioral Medicine, examined how conflicting health information affects responses to new information and feelings towards recommendations and the experts providing them.

“People are routinely expected to interpret complex health recommendations, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said lead author Patrick Barnwell, a graduate student at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “Conflicting health-related recommendations are increasingly common due to the speed at which 24-hour news cycles and social media can disseminate information.”

Depending on the study, conflicting information can be two or more statements about a health problem that are incompatible with each other, from multiple sources such as an expert or a non-expert, and shared in various ways such as in person or on the internet.

Researchers conducted an online study where one group read a conflicting article about the benefits of eating whole grain foods while the other group read an article with consistent information on the same topic. Participants then performed a computer task to measure their attention and reported the effort it took to accomplish.

Those who read the article with conflicting information were more confused, made more mistakes and responded more slowly to the attention task, and had more negative feelings about research and scientists. They also said that it took them more effort to complete the attention task than those who read the article without the contradictory message, even though they did not do the task as well.

Researchers say these reactions can be detrimental to the effectiveness and satisfaction of public health and disease management. Ultimately, patients may have difficulty making and implementing appropriate health decisions, and those decisions may be misinformed or misinformed.

The researchers suggest that healthcare professionals ensure messages are consistent so that patients focus on the information and their specific decisions, rather than exerting their attention to decipher the ambiguity of the information.

“A consistent message is especially important now given the amount of information public health officials disseminate about immunization,” said Richard Contrada, professor of psychology and director of the Rutgers Social, Health and Interdisciplinary Psychophysiology Lab. “As we regularly read an abundance of conflicting information, it can be useful for educational programs or webinars to incorporate strategies that people can use to help understand and potentially resolve discrepancies in health-related messages. . “

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