Background: Although timely and accurate information during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential for containing the disease and reducing mental distress, an infodemic, which refers to an overabundance of information, may trigger unpleasant emotions and reduce compliance. Prior research has shown the negative consequences of an infodemic during the pandemic; however, we know less about which subpopulations are more exposed to the infodemic and are more vulnerable to the adverse psychological and behavioral effects.
Objective: This study aimed to examine how sociodemographic factors and information-seeking behaviors affect the perceived information overload during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also investigated the effect of perceived information overload on psychological distress and protective behavior and analyzed the socioeconomic differences in the effects.
Methods: The data for this study were obtained from a cross-national survey of residents in 6 jurisdictions in Asia in May 2020. The survey targeted residents aged 18 years or older. A probability-based quota sampling strategy was adopted to ensure that the selected samples matched the population's geographical and demographic characteristics released by the latest available census in each jurisdiction. The final sample included 10,063 respondents. Information overload about COVID-19 was measured by asking the respondents to what extent they feel overwhelmed by news related to COVID-19. The measure of psychological distress was adapted from the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5). Protective behaviors included personal hygienic behavior and compliance with social distancing measures.
Results: Younger respondents and women (b=0.20, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.26) were more likely to perceive information overload. Participants self-perceived as upper or upper-middle class (b=0.19, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.30) and those with full-time jobs (b=0.11, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.17) tended to perceive higher information overload. Respondents who more frequently sought COVID-19 information from newspapers (b=0.12, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.14), television (b=0.07, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.09), and family and friends (b=0.11, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.14) were more likely to feel overwhelmed. In contrast, obtaining COVID-19 information from online news outlets and social media was not associated with perceived information overload. There was a positive relationship between perceived information overload and psychological distress (b=2.18, 95% CI 2.09 to 2.26). Such an association was stronger among urban residents, full-time employees, and those living in privately owned housing. The effect of perceived information overload on protective behavior was not significant.
Conclusions: Our findings revealed that respondents who were younger, were female, had a higher socioeconomic status (SES), and had vulnerable populations in the household were more likely to feel overwhelmed by COVID-19 information. Perceived information overload tended to increase psychological distress, and people with higher SES were more vulnerable to this adverse psychological consequence. Effective policies and interventions should be promoted to target vulnerable populations who are more susceptible to the occurrence and negative psychological influence of perceived information overload.
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© 2022 Journal of Medical Internet Research. All rights reserved.
- cross-national survey
- information overload
- protective behavior
- psychological distress