Hope over fear: The interplay between threat information and hope appeal corrections in debunking early COVID-19 misinformation

Social science & medicine (1982)(2023)

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The spreading of COVID-19 misinformation paralleled increasing fear towards the pandemic reported worldwide in its early stages. Yet research on the emotional basis for misinformation susceptibility and how emotional appeals may help reduce COVID-19 related misperceptions remains limited. To address this gap, we conducted a 2 (threat from COVID-19: yes vs. no) x 4 (correction conditions: none vs. factual correction vs. factual correction + words of optimistic outlook & individual efficacy vs. factual correction + words of optimistic outlook & collective efficacy) between-participant factorial experiment among an online sample of Chinese residents (N = 836) in June 2020. Misinformation about COVID-19 treatments and mitigation was presented in all conditions. Across five misinformation topics, threat information induced more misperceptions while all three types of corrections mitigated threat information's deleterious impact and improved belief accuracy. Importantly, corrections incorporating hope appeals showed enhanced effectiveness in improving belief accuracy when threat information was present whereas factual corrections absent hope appeals did not show similar sensitivity towards threat information. For hope appeal corrections, their indirect effects on desirable downstream behavioral intentions through corrected beliefs were stronger with than without preceding threat information. Our study thus demonstrated the potential of deploying hope appeals to fight the COVID-19 infodemic in China and beyond when threat information is prevalent, while highlighting the importance of studying the roles of emotional appeals in health misperception formation and correction.
Misinformation correction,COVID-19,Hope appeal,Emotion,Threat,Individual efficacy,Collective efficacy,China
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