Expert Pitch
West Virginia University

Celebrities, athletes and public figures with COVID-19 influence public perception of the virus

19-Mar-2020 2:25 PM EDT, by West Virginia University

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - Within 48 hours of actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announcing they tested positive for the novel coronavirus, one West Virginia University expert launched into research mode. 

Elizabeth Cohen, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, has analyzed emotional responses to media and the attachments people have to celebrities and fictional characters. Through her research, Cohen has connected celebrity effects on public health and behavior.

Now that a famous figure had tested positive for COVID-19, how would the general public’s perception of the potentially deadly virus change, if at all? 

“There have now been a lot of well-known individuals testing positive COVID-19, and of course there will be more,” Cohen said. “On one hand, these announcements may help make people understand how far-reaching the virus is. Or they can make people think ‘celebrities are just like us. If Tom Hanks can get it, I can get it’ On the other hand, it could make it seem like not such a big deal.”

Cohen created an online experiment through Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing service that researchers can utilize to gather data. She assigned half of the participants to read a basic statement about COVID-19 that included verbiage that Hanks tested positive for it. The other half of the participants read the same sentence except that Hanks’ name was swapped out with a random, regular “Joe Schmo” type of name.

She then asked participants their risk assessment of COVID-19, and whether they thought they were more susceptible to the virus or more concerned about it spreading to their loved ones after reading the statements.

Cohen plans to continue studying the issue and will eventually publish her findings.

“There’s evidence that celebrities are indicators of what’s acceptable,” Cohen said. “I think here we’re seeing an increase of risk but not necessarily severity, with Tom Hanks as an example. Knowing a celebrity has it raises a level of awareness.”

Hanks and his spouse, Wilson, were the first major celebrities to announce they’d tested positive for COVID-19. Idris Elba, star of “The Wire” and “Luther,” revealed he tested positive on Monday (March 16). Several athletes, including NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Rudy Gobert, have also tested positive. 

Cohen referenced how the public began to perceive HIV from a more compassionate, understanding viewpoint when Magic Johnson announced his retirement from the NBA in 1991 after contracting the virus.

“There were at least 20 studies in the early 90s that came out looking at how it affected the perceptions and behaviors toward HIV,” she said.

The same happened with suicide and mental illness following the death of comedian Robin Williams in 2014.

“Whether you want to believe it or not, celebrities have an effect on people’s social norms,” Cohen said. 

Recently, she’s studied the perceptions of vaping and preliminary results found that showing celebrities vaping made it more acceptable.

Even the president, Donald Trump, and his actions can influence how Americans react to the threat of coronavirus, Cohen added. 

“He’s a celebrity, too,” she said. “And he has changed over the last few weeks. He pushed back on being tested when he first had the opportunity. But then he got tested. How he responds to it himself can be very influential on the public’s behaviors.” 

-WVU-

js/03/19/20

CONTACT: Elizabeth Cohen Associate Professor, Communication Studies WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences [email protected]

OR

Jake Stump Director, Research Communications University Relations-Communications 304-293-5507; [email protected]

 

Call 1-855-WVU-NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday.

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5820
access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 15-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 14-Jun-2021 5:20 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 15-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise: For Transplant Recipients, Third Time May Be the Charm for Better COVID Vaccine Protection
Released: 14-Jun-2021 5:15 PM EDT
For Transplant Recipients, Third Time May Be the Charm for Better COVID Vaccine Protection
Johns Hopkins Medicine

In a study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they believe that, for the first time, there is evidence to show that three doses of vaccine increase antibody levels against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID 19 — more than the standard two-dose regimen for people who have received solid organ transplants.

Newswise: Broadway1_DTLA_sz.lowres-768x512.jpg
Released: 14-Jun-2021 4:05 PM EDT
What’s Next: The Ongoing Urban Exodus
University of California, Irvine

Many employees have come to prefer working from home after being forced to do so more than a year ago when the pandemic started. By some estimates, at least one-quarter of employees will still be working remotely multiple days a week at the end of 2021. For those whose jobs allow it, being untethered from the office might mean moving farther away from it – by a few miles or a few hundred.

Newswise: 267701_web.jpg
Released: 14-Jun-2021 2:50 PM EDT
New model accounts for the effect of behavior changes to predict COVID-19 cases
Brown University

By adding behavioral components to an infectious disease model, Brown University researchers have developed a new modeling approach that captures the peaks and valleys in new COVID-19 cases seen over the past 16 months.

Newswise: Masking, breakthrough infections and telehealth: Keck Medicine of USC experts on life after June 15
Released: 14-Jun-2021 2:05 PM EDT
Masking, breakthrough infections and telehealth: Keck Medicine of USC experts on life after June 15
Keck Medicine of USC

June 15 is a banner day in California. Most COVID-19 statewide restrictions will be eliminated, including physical distancing and in many situations, mask mandates. How will life change and how will it stay the same? Keck Medicine of USC experts weigh in on what to expect next in the golden state.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 15-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 14-Jun-2021 11:40 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 15-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise: California Reopening: Experts Say Keep Masks Handy
Released: 14-Jun-2021 10:35 AM EDT
California Reopening: Experts Say Keep Masks Handy
Cedars-Sinai

This week brings a milestone to pandemic-weary Californians: As of June 15, California public health guidelines that have been in place during the 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic will be relaxed. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to go mask-free in most situations, but Cedars-Sinai infectious disease experts suggest masks, an important tool in preventing transmission of the virus, will be with us a while longer.

Released: 14-Jun-2021 9:45 AM EDT
People with Health Insurance Vaccinated More Than Those Without, Survey Finds
Rutgers University-New Brunswick

People with health insurance are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at a higher rate than those without insurance, despite the vaccine being free, according to a national survey from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Newswise: Virtual Event For June 17, 11AM EDT: COVID-19 Vaccines and Male Fertility
Released: 14-Jun-2021 8:55 AM EDT
Virtual Event For June 17, 11AM EDT: COVID-19 Vaccines and Male Fertility
Newswise

This upcoming JAMA-published study examined whether the COVID-19 vaccine impacts male fertility.

Newswise:Video Embedded study-links-covid-19-public-health-efforts-to-dramatic-drop-in-copd-hospitalizations
VIDEO
Released: 14-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT
Study Links COVID-19 Public Health Efforts to Dramatic Drop in COPD Hospitalizations
University of Maryland Medical Center

Public health measures designed to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus may have fostered a substantial side benefit: A 53 percent drop in hospital admissions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), likely due to a drop in circulating seasonal respiratory viruses such as influenza.


Showing results

110 of 5820

close
1.60874