Media Exposure and Protective Behaviour during a Public-Health Emergency

Dr LI Xigen of the Department of Media and Communication of CityU has been working on the project on Media Exposure and Protective Behavior during a Public-Health Emergency funded by a GRF grant. He has completed a study of Hong Kong public's protective behaviour under the extensive media coverage of Ebola in 2014.


To date, most empirical studies of preventive behaviour have focused on intentions and actions towards specific health threats such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes, and the factors that influence intended and actual responses to these threats. Few studies have addressed the effects of exposure to the media on public perceptions, attitudes, intentions, and behaviour during a public-health emergency.

In the study of "Media exposure and protective behaviour during a public-health emergency", Dr Li examines the general patterns of public behaviour in response to events of significant social impact such as public-health threats of Ebola virus outbreak in 2014. The study has been carried out through a cross-sectional survey of over 700 Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents aged 18 or above, and the data were collected through telephone interviews during the period of 14 November to 1 December, 2014.

Major Findings

The study found that exposure to media coverage of a public-health emergency tends to positively predict perceived threat; the individuals' feeling of the level of imminent danger to the community posed by the public-health emergency and fear aroused by the media messages; as well as the degree of concern or anxiety caused by exposure to media coverage of the public-health emergency, determine whether individuals will proceed with danger-control or fearcontrol processes. Danger control is a cognitive process whereby individuals develop protective strategies to reduce the likelihood that they will be affected by a given danger, while fear control is an emotional process that promotes defensive avoidance. Individuals under fear control are likely to ignore risk messages, or they resist the need to take action, which in turn leads to maladaptive behaviour. The findings add to the literature on health communication involving media exposure and bring new light to the understanding of how media coverage of a public-health emergency and the perceived threat induced by media messages, together with the perceived efficacy, affect people's responses to a massive public-health emergency and their protective behaviours.