"Association of COVID-19 Misinformation with Face Mask Wearing and Social Distancing in a Nationally Representative US Sample." Health Communication, 2020.

Robert Hornik, Ava Kikut, Emma Jesch, Chioma Woko, Leeann Siegel, and Kwanho Kim
Research Area: 

Wide-spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for communicating public health recommendations. Should campaigns to promote protective behaviors focus on debunking misinformation or targeting behavior-specific beliefs? To address this question, we examine whether belief in COVID-19 misinformation is directly associated with two behaviors (face mask wearing and social distancing), and whether behavior-specific beliefs can account for this association and better predict behavior, consistent with behavior-change theory. We conducted a nationally representative two-wave survey of U.S. adults from 5/26/20-6/12/20 (n = 1074) and 7/15/20-7/21//20 (n = 889; follow-up response 83%). Scales were developed and validated for COVID-19 related misinformation beliefs, social distancing and face mask wearing, and beliefs about the consequences of both behaviors. Cross-lagged panel linear regression models assessed relationships among the variables. While belief in misinformation was negatively associated with both face mask wearing (B = −.27, SE =.06) and social-distancing behaviors (B = −.46, SE =.08) measured at the same time, misinformation did not predict concurrent or lagged behavior when the behavior-specific beliefs were incorporated in the models. Beliefs about behavioral outcomes accounted for face mask wearing and social distancing, both cross-sectionally (B =.43, SE =.05; B =.63, SE =.09) and lagged over time (B =.20, SE = 04; B =.30, SE =.08). In conclusion, belief in COVID-19related misinformation is less relevant to protective behaviors, but beliefs about the consequences of these behaviors are important predictors. With regard to misinformation, we recommend health cam­ paigns aimed at promoting protective behaviors emphasize the benefits of these behaviors, rather than debunking unrelated false claims.