Oct 2021

The interplay of jargon, motivation, and fatigue while processing COVID-19 crisis communication over time

Shulman, H.C., Bullock, O.M., & Riggs, E.E.

Journal of Language and Social Psychology

Abstract

Using the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, this three-wave experiment (N = 1,830) examined whether a public health crisis motivates people to engage with complicated information about the virus in the form of jargon. Results revealed that although the presence of jargon negatively impacted message acceptance for topics that were not particularly urgent (flood risk and federal risk policy), the presence of jargon within the COVID-19 topic condition did not affect message perceptions—at first. In subsequent waves of data collection, however, it was found that the influence of jargon strengthened over time within the COVID-19 topic condition. Specifically, jargon began to exert a stronger influence on processing fluency despite the continued urgency of the topic. This finding suggests that motivation to process COVID-19 related information declined over time. Theoretical contributions for language, processing fluency, and persuasion are offered and practical implications for health, risk, science, and crisis communicators are advanced.

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