Background: There was an overwhelmed COVID-related information surfacing through mass and social media in China during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. To date, there is limited evidence on how the infodemic may have the potential to influence psychobehavioural responses to the crisis.
Objective: This study assessed the psychobehavioural responses to the COVID-19 outbreak and examined their associations with mass and social media exposure.
Methods: A cross-sectional study among medical university students from the Fujian Medical University, Fuzhou, China, was conducted from 6 to 22 April 2020.
Results: A total of 2,086 complete responses were received. In multivariable analyses, four constructs of the Health Belief Model (HBM), namely, higher perception of susceptibility (OR = 1.44; 95% CI 1.07-1.94), severity (OR = 1.32; 95% CI 1.10-1.59), self-efficacy (OR = 1.61; 95% CI 1.21-2.15), and perceived control or intention to carry out prevention measures (OR = 1.32; 95% CI 1.09-1.59), were significantly associated with a higher mass media exposure score, whereas only three constructs, namely, higher perception of severity (OR = 1.43; 95% CI 1.19-1.72), self-efficacy (OR = 1.85; 95% CI 1.38-2.48) and perceived control or intention to carry out prevention measures (OR = 1.32; 95% CI 1.08-1.58), were significantly associated with a higher social media exposure score. Lower emotional consequences and barriers to carry out prevention measures were also significantly associated with higher mass and social media exposure. The finding on anxiety levels revealed that 38.1% (95% CI 36.0-40.2) of respondents reported moderate-to-severe anxiety. A lower anxiety level was significantly associated with higher mass and social media exposure in the univariable analyses; however, the associations were not significant in the multivariable analyses.
Conclusions: In essence, both mass and social media are useful means of getting health messages across and contribute to the betterment of psychobehavioural responses to COVID-19 to ensure the declining infection trend continues. Findings imply the importance of the credibility of information shared in the mass and social media as well as a viable strategy to counter misinformation during a pandemic.