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Penn State Coronavirus Updates

World in View: Do Celebrity Doctors Shape Our Behavior?

  • Wednesday, February 2, 2022
  • 10:00 AM- 11:30 AM
  • Zoom link will be provided

"Do celebrity doctors shape our behavior? How leading scientists shaped information behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. and Germany" – a World in View discussion led by Dr. Jessica Gall Myrick (Penn State) and Dr. Helena Bilandzic (University of Augsburg, Germany)

As a global phenomenon, COVID-19 has reached all countries, presenting them with a severe health crisis and its citizenry with the need to seek more information about their health risks. However, countries dealt with the health crisis in different ways, potentially also affecting the ways in which people think about the pandemic and seek information about it. Germany introduced enforced and nation-wide social distancing, restaurant and store closures, mandatory mask use in public space, and expanded ICU capacity to treat COVID patients, resulting in comparatively low infection and mortality rates. The U.S. response, in contrast, was characterized by a decentralized approach, in which the states mandated measures for containment; in the whole process, there was constant political and social pressure to re-open the economy and lift restrictions as well as conflicting messages from health officials and politicians. This resulted in high infection and mortality rates compared to other countries, despite initially having a high capacity for outbreak response.

In May of 2020, we conducted a cross-national survey comparing how people in the U.S. and Germany responded to information about COVID, in particular, information coming from Dr. Anthony Fauci (in the U.S) and Dr. Christian Drosten (in Germany). Publicly-visible scientists are important because they have greater opportunities to shift public opinion about science-related phenomenon than do less well-known scientists. Even though most Americans have never met Fauci and most Germans have never met Drosten, they feel like they know their respective nationally famous scientist. Unlike other science-related topics that might spark our desire for additional information—contaminated fish in lakes, cancer, or even other infectious diseases like H1N1—the story of the COVID-19 pandemic has featured specific personalities at the front of the global stage.

Please complete this reading ahead of the discussion.

Please note: Registration for events in this series is required and, given the topics and speakers, we anticipate interest to be high. Event is limited to 25 students with preference to Schreyer Scholars; early registration is strongly encouraged. To enhance your online engagement experience, video presence is strongly encouraged and recommended. Scholar attendees will receive a complimentary electronic gift card.

Faculty Presenters

Dr. Jessica Gall Myrick joined the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications in 2017. Her research examines the role of different emotions in shaping audience responses to health, science and environmental messages. She argues that mediated messages need to resonate emotionally with individuals in order to change attitudes and motivate behaviors related to those topics. Her work in this area has investigated how online health information seeking leads Internet users to experience multiple emotional states (e.g., anxiety, hope, and interest), which then predict different post-search behaviors. Other research has looked at the interplay of fear and hope, as well as compassion, in shaping responses to skin cancer prevention messages, for example. Another research focus of hers is the role of popular culture media and media about celebrities in shaping our attitudes and behaviors related to health, science, and the environment. Dr. Myrick has a PhD in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as an M.A. in Journalism and a B.A. in Political Science from Indiana University, where she was a Big Ten champion and All-American cross country and track runner for the Hoosiers. 

Dr. Helena Bilandzic has a background in communication science, media law and French literature. She earned her PhD from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich) in 2003 with a thesis on television program selection, and her habilitation degree from the University of Erfurt with work on the differential processes of media effects in 2009. Dr. Bilandzic has taught at universities in Munich, Erfurt, Ilmenau, Berlin, Hamburg and Friedrichshafen. She was a visiting scholar at the Washington State University and the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2010, Dr. Bilandzic is a professor of Communication with special focus on Media Effects and Processes at the Department of Media, Knowledge and Communication at the Augsburg University. Her research expertise is located in the field of narrative experience and persuasion. Helena Bilandzic investigates the cognitive and emotional processes that occur when people make sense of a narrative; specifically, she is interested in the mechanisms of narrative persuasion. She explores how health images and health information is conveyed through such stories, and what functional and dysfunctional consequences entertainment narratives may have. Dr. Bilandzic is also interested in the attitudes towards illnesses and a possible stigmatization of the patients through media narratives.

Event Contact

Sarah Lyall-Combs
Schreyer Scholar Ananda Rankin

I want to be able to find something through research that can help the rest of the world. If you find this one thing, that could change the course of everything afterward.

Ananda Rankin '20 Microbiology

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