Background: During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, governments issued movement restrictions and placed areas into quarantine to combat the spread of the disease. In addition, individuals were encouraged to adopt personal health measures such as social isolation. Information regarding the disease and recommended avoidance measures were distributed through a variety of channels including social media, news websites, and emails. Previous research suggests that the vast amount of available information can be confusing, potentially resulting in overconcern and information overload.
Objective: This study investigates the impact of online information on the individual-level intention to voluntarily self-isolate during the pandemic. Using the protection-motivation theory as a framework, we propose a model outlining the effects of cyberchondria and information overload on individuals' perceptions and motivations.
Methods: To test the proposed model, we collected data with an online survey (N=225) and analyzed it using partial least square-structural equation modeling. The effects of social media and living situation were tested through multigroup analysis.
Results: Cyberchondria and information overload had a significant impact on individuals' threat and coping perceptions, and through them on self-isolation intention. Among the appraisal constructs, perceived severity (P=.002) and self-efficacy (P=.003) positively impacted self-isolation intention, while response cost (P<.001) affected the intention negatively. Cyberchondria (P=.003) and information overload (P=.003) indirectly affected self-isolation intention through the aforementioned perceptions. Using social media as an information source increased both cyberchondria and information overload. No differences in perceptions were found between people living alone and those living with their families.
Conclusions: During COVID-19, frequent use of social media contributed to information overload and overconcern among individuals. To boost individuals' motivation to adopt preventive measures such as self-isolation, actions should focus on lowering individuals' perceived response costs in addition to informing them about the severity of the situation.
Keywords: COVID-19; behavior; cyberchondria; information overload; pandemic; protection motivation theory; self-isolation.
©Ali Farooq, Samuli Laato, A K M Najmul Islam. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 06.05.2020.