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April 6, 2023

How anxiety affects risk information processing: MSU researchers receive NSF grant

Exploring how anxious people process risk information

In January 2023, Youjin Jang, Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication and Maria Lapinski, Director of the Michigan State University Health and Risk Communication Center and professor in the Department of Communication, were awarded NSF’s Dissertation Research Improvement Grant. Their study will focus on the risk perception attitude framework and aims to understand how anxiety affects how people understand and remember risk information, and the subsequent choices they make.

Michigan State University Department of Communication researchers, Maria Lapinski and Youjin Jang, have been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study how anxious people seek and process information about environmental and health risks.

The study will center on two common anxiety-inducing behaviors: taking energy-saving measures to prevent blackouts in communities, and the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Using resources in ComArtSci’s CASE Lab with Professor Monique Turner, the team will conduct experiments via self-report measures of processing and response, eye-tracking, and physiological measures of anxiety — that is, they will ask participants questions, watch where their eyes look, and check how their bodies react to messages. They hope the findings from this project will contribute to designing better risk communication messages that target people who experience anxiety when exposed to such information.

Lapinski, who has been working with Jang throughout her doctoral studies, notes that fear-based messaging is common in health and environmental campaigns.

“We know that when people are fearful of something that’s very motivational, and a lot of the research has tried to figure out … how do you motivate people without causing them to be so afraid that they feel like they can’t do anything, and they shut down?” said Lapinski.

Jang is exploring the effects of messaging on people when they feel anxious, an emotion related to fear.

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By: Jessica Mussell

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