Ebola education, communication study to be conducted

BUFFALO, N.Y.  (WIVB) –  Dr. Janet Yang, a risk communication scholar at U.B., will conduct a new national survey to see if Ebola fears have gotten worse.

“Public panic and fear is just all over the place,” she told News 4.

The survey, funded by the National Science Foundation, will also determine how people get their information, how they communicate with each other about Ebola, and whether there is a sense of urgency to do something about it.

“Does this information influence their judgement or decision-making?” she questioned.  She hopes to determine what role social media might play in driving people to call for some kind of action, “in terms of supporting government initiatives.”  She gives examples of sending troops and medical professionals to West Africa.

The survey of a thousand Americans will begin this week, with results expected by mid-November.

Dr. Yang says she was motivated by a Harvard study released a month before the first Ebola case was diagnosed in the U.S.  It showed that 39 percent of Americans believed the virus would make its way to the United States and 26 percent said they were concerned they or their families would be exposed.

Ebola updates and new directives are featured in the news daily.  There is a concern that obsessive thoughts about the disease may be taking a toll on people’s health.

Tina Roberts of Buffalo said, “It’s scary, yeah, I mean, imagine –  I’m constantly washing my hands and telling the kids wash their hands.”  She says she is even concerned about what the family dog might track into the house.

U.B. psychology professor Dr. Larry Hawk tells News 4 he is concerned about the worries of the average citizen in the United States. “Right now, we have a lot more fear and anxiety than we do real threat,” he said.

Dr. Hawk suggests people selectively seek out information and look for answers based on scientific fact.

“It’s a little hard sometimes to sift through what’s reasonable and what’s not,” he said. “I think that’s where some of us end up going down a path where the stress and anxiety and fear just ramps up and up.”

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