Examining the Impact of Communicative Processes of Civic Engagement Among College Students during a Public Health Crisis

mask wearingDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals have been encouraged to wear protective masks in order to reduce the likelihood of contracting and/or spreading the virus. Public health messaging is an important part of the COVID-19 crisis response strategy, and mask wearing has been portrayed as an act of civic duty or engagement.

This study is investigating the impact of messaging that encourages civic engagement among university students and how that communication occurs during times of crisis. It examines the likelihood of adherence to a call to action based on message characteristics and intention to adhere to recommendations (engage civically) based on the congruence of messages from sources outside (outgroup) and within (ingroup) the social network.

This involves the collection of baseline data on how message framing and descriptive and injunctive norms impact college students’ responses to preventive behavior calls to actions (i.e., mask-wearing as an act of civic engagement) in regards to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and how these responses are exacerbated when they interact with individual differences. We seek to investigate how/when messages are processed and either accepted or rejected.

This study also seeks to provide insight into the impact of communicative efforts on civic engagement among university students and how that communication occurs during times of crisis. In this study, civic engagement is linked to adherence to public health recommendations, particularly when such recommendations are so closely associated with political positions. Specifically, mask wearing is operationalized as an act of civic and community involvement given its potential impact on the health and well-being of community members, which is clearly an issue of public concern.

Understanding the relationship between the likelihood to accept a message or call to action (e.g., adherence to a public health recommendation such as mask wearing) based on message characteristics/channels and civic engagement will allow for the development of more efficacious health crisis messages that mitigate harm and increase prosocial attitudes and behaviors in the student community, more specifically those that bridge individual actions to collective and civic wellbeing.

Research team:  Jessica Wendorf Muhamad, PhD, and Patrick Merle, PhD (co-PIs), Tracy Ippolito and Pooja Ichplani (doctoral students), Jessie Colegrove and Savannah Tindall (undergraduate students).

Funded by:  Institute of Politics at Florida State University

For more information about this study, email PeaksLab@cci.fsu.edu.