Science

Tom Hanks sharing COVID-19 diagnosis on Twitter made people feel more susceptibility to it

Award-winning actor Tom Hanks announced he and his wife, Rita Wilson, contracted the coronavirus on March 11, 2020, and although many Americans were still learning about the virus, a new study finds Hanks’ social media posts affected people’s behavior toward it.

Penn State conducted a survey with more than 600 people about their attitudes about and prevention for COVID-19 following Hanks sharing his diagnosis.

The idea of this study was to understand the affect celebrities and social media posts impact public health.

Participants who had heard the news reported Hanks’ diagnosis ‘highlighted the reality of COVID-19’ and broadened their understanding of not only the severity of the situation, but also their susceptibility to the illness.

Researchers speculate this is because Hanks is wealthy and has accesses to tons of resources, but could not avoid the virus, making participants believe think they could not either.

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Award-winning actor Tom Hanks announced he and his wife, Rita Wilson, contracted the coronavirus on March 11, 2020, and although many Americans were still learning about the virus, a new study finds Hank's social media post affected people's behavior toward it

Award-winning actor Tom Hanks announced he and his wife, Rita Wilson, contracted the coronavirus on March 11, 2020, and although many Americans were still learning about the virus, a new study finds Hank’s social media post affected people’s behavior toward it

Jessica Gall Myrick, an associate professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, said: ‘There is a growing body of research about how celebrity behavior and social media posts can affect public health.’

‘This research was different in that we were able to launch our study really fast and collect survey data within a day of Hanks posting about his diagnosis.’

Myrick along with Jessica Fitts Willoughby, associate professor at Washington State University, surveyed 682 people about their attitudes and behaviors toward the coronavirus.

Approximately 90 percent of the participants had heard about Hank’s diagnosis by reading the social media post and half of them said it changed their attitudes and behaviors.

Penn State conducted a survey with more than 600 people about their attitudes about and prevention for COVID-19 following Hanks sharing his diagnosis. The idea of this study was to understand the affect celebrities and social media posts impact public health

Penn State conducted a survey with more than 600 people about their attitudes about and prevention for COVID-19 following Hanks sharing his diagnosis. The idea of this study was to understand the affect celebrities and social media posts impact public health

The team asked volunteers to describe emotions felt when hearing the news of Hanks and Wilson.

The respondents who reported making changes said Hanks’ disclosure inspired them to seek more information and/or take stricter precautions.

‘Celebrities can have a huge reach, often more so than typical scientists or doctors or the health department,’ Myrick said.

‘If they are encouraging positive health behavior change, then it can serve as a de facto public health intervention.’

Participants who had heard the news reported Hanks' diagnosis 'highlighted the reality of COVID-19' and broadened their understanding of not only the severity of the situation, but also their susceptibility to the illness

Participants who had heard the news reported Hanks’ diagnosis ‘highlighted the reality of COVID-19’ and broadened their understanding of not only the severity of the situation, but also their susceptibility to the illness

However, the other half said Hank’s diagnosis did not change how they thought about or behaved toward the coronavirus, as they were sure the actor would recover from the illness.

The team also wanted to see if there are characteristics that could predict how people changed upon learning about Hanks.

The results showed that individuals who identified with Hanks or said they knew him were more likely to change their thoughts or COVID-related behaviors due to the announcement.

‘People who said they typically trust celebrities, friends, family, or Donald Trump for health information were more likely to say that Hanks’ announcement led to positive behavior change,’ Myrick said. 

‘This suggests that public health officials and advocates may want to use these types of celebrity announcements to help reach people who may be harder to reach. 

Researchers speculate this is because Hanks is wealthy and has accesses to tons of resources, but could not avoid the virus, making them think they cannot either

Researchers speculate this is because Hanks is wealthy and has accesses to tons of resources, but could not avoid the virus, making them think they cannot either

‘They don’t rely as much on news or on scientists for health information.’ 

Just around four percent of those surveyed did not hear about Hanks’ diagnosis. and decided to conducted another part of the study.

The team showed half of those participants the social media posts in which Hanks shared talking about his coronavirus diagnosis and the other half were shown non-COVID posts from Hanks – and one noticeable difference was seen.

 Those who read the COVID-19 post said they felt less capable of avoiding the virus compared to the group who read the non-COVID-related Facebook post. 

Researchers speculate this is due to Hanks’s wealthy and accesses resources and even with all of this he still contracted the illness.

So in the end, participants may think they do not stand a fighting chance against the coronavirus. 


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