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UC Davis study wants to 're-sensitize' the public as COVID-19 cases increase

The study aims to "re-sensitize the public" to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

DAVIS, Calif. — A study conducted at UC Davis suggests that people are more desensitized to COVD-19 news than when it first started.

The study aims to "re-sensitize the public" to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This comes at a time when the world is struggling to rein in the COVID-19 Delta variant.

“First and foremost, we need to understand how and why scary health news lost impact over time, despite the rapidly increasing death toll,” Hannah R. Stevens, a doctoral student in communication and lead author of the paper said.  

Here are three things from the study that you need to know:

1). As news centered around COVID-19 deaths increased, people's anxiety levels decreased, the study found. Increase exposure to something over time becomes someone's new sense of normal and emotional responses are "blunted," the study found. The study goes on to define desensitization as a process by which cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to a stimulus are reduced or eliminated over protracted or repeated exposure.

2). Through the course of the study, researchers at UC Davis examined anxiety levels in news articles and also by examining user tweet reactions that had keywords like "COVID" and "Pandemic." In these tweets, they saw less of an anxiety response the more the death toll grew. 

3). The study had limitations because it did not examine how anxiety manifests on other platforms outside of Twitter. It only sampled English tweets from the US, so other demographics are not included. The study only represents a subset of the U.S. population with 1.4 million tweets being used in the study. The study used social media analysis to examine tweets and reactions to COVID-19 news for 11 months. 

As the public grows comfortable with COVID-19 news people become less concerned and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

"If another health crisis occurred today, or COVID-19 takes another turn for the worse, it is essential for public health officials to consider that they are communicating to a desensitized public," Stevens said in the study.

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