Article Review: Why Do Some Americans Resist COVID-19 Prevention Behavior?

Essay Article Review
Mar 15, 2022

Article Review:  Ball, H. & Wozniak, T. R. (2021, May). Why Do Some Americans Resist COVID-19 Prevention Behavior? An Analysis of Issue Importance, Message Fatigue, and Reactance Regarding COVID-19 Messaging. Health Communication, 1-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2021.1920717


This custom article review focuses on the research article by Hannah Ball and Tayah Renea Wozniak, titled “Why Do Some Americans Resist COVID-19 Prevention Behavior? An Analysis of Issue Importance, Message Fatigue, and Reactance Regarding COVID-19 Messaging,” attempts to understand the reason for people’s non-adherence to CDC recommendations for combatting or preventing the spread of COVID-19 using psychological reactance theory. The article was published in the journal Health Communication in May 2021, around the time when roll-out of vaccines for the virus started. 

The article tackles a highly relevant issue that became apparent with the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As authorities sought to control the spread of the virus, they imposed strict protocols and released regular messages regarding the symptoms of the virus and the best practices to mitigate its spread. In response, a fair amount of the population exhibited resistance to these messages. Authorities, establishment owners, and frontliners were in turn confused with the resistance and have struggled to deal with it. 

The study is quite straightforward. Its goal is to explain Americans’ reactions and non-adherence to health messaging in the context of COVID-19 through psychological reactance theory. The authors begin by explaining the concept of psychological theory, which is central to the study. According to this theory, people’s behaviors are influenced by perceived threats to their individual freedom. When they believe that their personal freedom is threatened, they resist the element in order to regain that freedom (Ball & Wozniak, 2021). Freedom restoration behaviors may involve directly resisting the recommended behaviors or indirect resistance, such as by expressing disagreement with the message. The authors also persuasively explain the suitability of psychological reactance theory as a lens for explaining the resistance to COVID-19 messaging. 

Following the exposition of PRT and its relevance to the subject matter, the authors present four hypotheses: (1) “issue involvement with COVID-19 will be negatively associated with freedom threat perceptions of COVID-19 messaging”; (2) “freedom threat perceptions will be positively associated with reactance”; (3) “message fatigue will be positively associated with freedom threat perceptions of COVID-19 messaging”; (4) and “reactance will be negatively associated with adherence to COVID-19 prevention behavior” (Ball & Wozniak, 2021, p. 7-8). These first three hypotheses build up the foundation necessary to prove the last and main hypothesis of the study. 

The research method used is quantitative research method. The researchers recruited 268 participants which all came from diverse backgrounds, thereby ensuring the universality of the study. With that said, the authors identified that the majority of the respondents were White (78.4%) and female (72.8%) (Ball & Wozniak, 2021, p.9). The collected data from the participants through a Qualtrics survey that comprised of close-ended survey questions and an open-ended question wherein participants were asked to write down their thoughts and feelings on a COVID-19 message (Ball & Wozniak, 2021). In line with the hypotheses, the survey focused on issue importance, message fatigue, perceived freedom threat, reactance, and adherence to COVID-19 prevention behavior. 

The data were analyzed using structural equation modeling which allowed the researchers to analyze the hypotheses simultaneously. Following the analysis, the authors reported that all four hypotheses were supported, with their direct relationships confirmed. The authors also examined the indirect effects in the structural model using 95% confidence intervals (Ball & Wozniak, 2021). This analysis confirmed the relationships between the variables examined. The authors also conducted a post hoc analysis using ANOVA to account for the differences in the participants’ political affiliation. The post hoc analysis revealed that Democrats experienced lower message fatigue but higher issue importance compared with Independents and Republicans. The data analysis conducted by the researchers is, therefore, highly reliable.

The Methods section is followed by the Discussion section where the authors discuss each of the hypotheses. The first hypothesis was supported, however, the analysis showed that this effect is stronger on social adherence than on hygiene adherence (Ball & Wozniak, 2021). This difference in reactance is later expounded on as due to the difference in the size or gravity of the request. Hygiene adherence is deemed as a smaller request since it is a practice that most people engaged in regularly prior to the pandemic, it was not as strongly influenced by reactance, but social distancing is a greater request with more serious implications, which in turn was more significantly affected (Ball & Wozniak, 2021). The discussion in this respect initially revolved more on the findings of studies that also dealt with issue importance and reactance process. The sources they used evidently credible sources as well (see how to evaluate online sources ). While the authors drew useful conclusions on the importance of verifying the relevance of the issue to their study, the discussion was left scarce. The second hypothesis, that freedom threat perceptions will be positively associated with reactance, was also supported by the findings of the study, which supports the author’s statement that novel communication methods are necessary to minimize reactance and improve adherence to COVID-19 messaging (Ball & Wozniak, 2021). The authors mainly focused on providing recommendations based on the findings of the study in the Discussion section. In this respect, the authors could have expounded more on the influences of the variables on behaviors toward COVID-19 messaging. Despite that, the authors provide practical recommendations for ways to improve COVID-19 messaging. Overall, the authors concluded that the best way to improve adherence to COVID-19 best practices is to increase issue importance in communications while reducing message fatigue by varying wordings in messages.

The authors did not leave out mention of the limitations of the study. They identified three limitations and provided some suggestions as to how future research can improve upon their research. Despite its limitations, the study provided significant insight into the resistant reaction of some Americans to COVID-19 messaging and recommendations. They were also able to provide, based on empirical evidence, the suggestion that COVID-19 messaging should emphasize issue importance in communications while using varied messages to avoid adverse reactance and instead improve adherence. 

The research article critiqued based on our guide on how to write an analysis of a research article concludes that the research article by Ball and Wozniak (2021) provides reliable insights into the resistant behavior of some Americans and suggestions on how to avoid further reactance to COVID-19 messaging. However, their discussion did not expound enough on their findings which could have further improved the quality of the article. Nevertheless, the authors presented a strong research design that will be useful in the continued efforts to curb COVID-19.

 

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