ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (4): 664-676.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.00664

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Intervention strategies for health rumors: An overview based on the information lifecycle theory

LYU Xiaokang, LIU Xin, YANG Tingting, FU Chunye()   

  1. Department of Social Psychology, Nankai University, Tianjin 300350, China
  • Received:2023-03-01 Online:2024-04-15 Published:2024-02-29
  • Contact: FU Chunye


The proliferation of health rumors in online spaces has reached alarming levels, contributing to heightened societal panic, erosion of trust, and compromising public safety. Navigating this challenge has become increasingly intricate, especially given the pervasive influence of social media. Existing research in health rumor management has predominantly focused on bolstering organizational and policy structures, neglecting a nuanced exploration of individual differences in information processing. A comprehensive examination from a psychological standpoint could offer invaluable insights into the intricate mechanisms that drive the dissemination of health rumors. Such an analysis may pave the way for the development of a cohesive and integrated framework to effectively combat the rampant spread of health rumors, considering both organizational and individual dynamics. An interdisciplinary approach that combines psychological insights with existing organizational strategies are suggested to holistically address the multifaceted challenges posed by health rumors in the digital age.

Understanding the propagation of health rumors involves examining two dimensions: information and information processing subjects. At the information level, emotionally charged presentation styles and causal narrative structures in health rumors make the public vulnerable to contagion. On the individual level, variations in emotional experiences, self-awareness, and belief contribute to the dissemination of health rumors. These factors often interact, creating a socially pervasive issue that is difficult to curb. Unraveling these driving factors requires exploring emotional involvement and cognitive processing.

The factors influencing individuals’ inclination to share health rumors can be elucidated through the lens of behavioral decision theory. According to this theory, individual decisions to engage in specific behaviors are guided by two systems: one driven by emotional impulses and the other linked to reasoning and executive functions. The former operates with rapid responses driven by emotions, while the latter relies on slow, controlled cognition. These two systems don't operate in parallel, and individuals exhibit specific biases when utilizing them, influencing their decision-making. Considering health rumors as a distinct category of health information, individual responses are also shaped by habitual decision-making behaviors. Developing corresponding intervention strategies requires a thorough understanding of these driving factors and potential conflicts within human dual-system processing, aiming for substantive and precise interventions.

Drawing from the Information Lifecycle Theory, employing different management methods and coping strategies for information with unique characteristics at various stages can optimize information value throughout the lifecycle. This approach, known as the lifecycle approach, conceptualizes the subject of investigation as a complete life process from formation to extinction, akin to a biological lifecycle. To apply this method, research subjects must meet two conditions: possessing life characteristics and finite existence. Health rumors, with their dynamic process from generation to decline, naturally align with the developmental patterns of a lifecycle, meeting the conditions for theoretical analysis and practical application. Considering the comprehensive synthesis and compatibility of existing intervention measures, this paper adopts a three-stage classification method for health rumors. It breaks down the dissemination process into the generation stage, evaluation stage, and dissemination stage, systematically summarizing and analyzing intervention strategies for health rumors at different stages. Primary intervention methods include prevention during the generation stage, emphasizing psychological inoculation and enhancing health literacy; the evaluation stage, focusing on individual subjective agency, including attention to information accuracy and promotion of analytical processing; and the dissemination stage, achieving precision debunking by increasing the credibility of refutation information, effectively using refutation texts, and regulating individual emotional states. This categorized intervention strategy aids relevant parties in promptly identifying measures applicable at different stages, reducing time and trial-and-error costs, and provides a framework reference for developing and validating precise intervention techniques for health rumors.

Nevertheless, existing preventive measures exhibit certain limitations. Specifically, the classification of health rumor types lacks sufficient detail, and there is a notable absence of nuanced differentiation in psychological characteristics among distinct susceptible groups, with targeted processing measures yet to be explored. Future research endeavors should focus on pioneering governance strategies for health rumors, adopting the perspective of the information lifecycle and exploring intervention methods tailored to diverse types and susceptible populations. Additionally, there is a need to consolidate and validate the real-world application effects of various strategies, leveraging insights from behavioral science and online platforms to establish a sustainable mechanism for effectively intervening in health rumors.

Key words: health rumors, misinformation, online rumors, psychological inoculation, truth sandwiches

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