LOS ANGELES, Calif. — When it comes to the news, many people in the United States have a media outlet they trust above all others. For some, this choice boils down to which network they believe leans towards their political viewpoint. A study finds these biases may also be pushing people to act in certain ways during the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers in California say who people trust in the media is either causing them to be more careful or less so when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
A team at the University of Southern California (USC) finds trust in left-leaning or right-leaning media media groups determines how much risky behavior a person engages in during the pandemic. The study looks at 4,800 Americans from the Understanding America Study’s COVID-19 panel; comparing the results to which news organization each person trusts the most.
For the comparison, CNN was used as an example of left-leaning media outlet. Fox News represented a right-leaning news source. Researchers then measured the amount of trust Americans put in various news groups, lining it up against their health habits during COVID.
Which media outlets do Americans trust most?
The USC finds around 29 percent of the participants trust CNN over Fox News, with 20 percent saying the reverse. Over half of the respondents (52%) said they don’t prefer either side of the political spectrum.
When reviewing how this trust affects behavior, researchers find people choosing Fox News engaged in 1.25 risky health acts during a seven-day stretch. This was slightly higher than the portion distrusting both outlets and noticeably higher than the 0.94 risky behaviors people trusting CNN partake in.
Behaviors considered risky during the pandemic included going to a bar or club, going to another person’s house, hosting friends at home, attending gatherings with over 10 people like a concert or religious service, and having close contact with someone who doesn’t live with you.
Does the news change your health habits?
Study authors also find there was a small uptick in the number of healthy habits among Americans preferring left-leaning outlets to right-leaning ones. The study reports people choosing CNN perform 3.85 actions a week to prevent COVID-19. This was just above the 3.41 positive actions participants choosing Fox News engaged in.
Preventative measures included wearing a face mask, washing hands regularly, postponing social activities, avoiding restaurants, and avoiding gatherings or crowds.
“In such a highly partisan environment, false information can be easily disseminated. Health messaging, which is one of the few effective ways to slow down the spread of the virus in the absence of a vaccine, is being damaged by politically biased and economically focused narratives,” study authors Erfei Zhao and Qiao Wu contend in a university release.
The study appears in the journal BMJ Global Health.