How Americans Make Sense of Two Novel Pandemics

Edward L. Fink, Rachel A. Smith, Deborah A. Cai, Heeyoung Jung, Joseph Woelfel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Using Galileo theory and method of multidimensional scaling (MDS), we compared the psychological distances between concepts related to two pandemic viruses, Zika and COVID-19. Surveys (Zika, N = 410; COVID-19, N = 291) were used to investigate the role of media use and interpersonal communication on the relationship between 10 concepts in multidimensional spaces. We asked these four research questions: Do the two spaces represent the two pandemics similarly? What is the relationship of me and of people to each pandemic? What is the effect of virus-related media use and interpersonal talk on the pandemic space? What are optimal messages for moving me closer to Zika and to COVID-19? Media use influenced the distances for both pandemics: With greater media use, the concepts were closer in the Zika space and further apart in the COVID-19 space. Interpersonal communication was associated with few differences in the spaces. Based on the psychological distances between concepts, optimal messages were identified: For Zika, a message with two concepts, people and women, is predicted to be most effective to move Zika to the concept me, whereas for COVID-19, a message with people is predicted to be most effective to move COVID-19 to me.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-560
Number of pages13
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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