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Study: Narrative Moral Judgment Theories Explain Reactions to COVID-19 Death Stories

A new study has found that reactions to online COVID-19 death stories can be explained by narrative moral judgment theories. The findings by incoming University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations assistant professor Rebecca Frazer and colleagues at The Ohio State University are featured in “Demystifying Schadenfreude: How Disposition Theorizing Explains Responses to Social Media Stories of Unvaccinated COVID-19 Deaths” published in New Media & Society on July 22.

In the study, the authors referenced the Herman Cain Awards, a distinction given to individuals who share COVID-19 misinformation on social media and subsequently die from the disease. They sought to explore the moral judgement processes that underlie reader’s responses to these social media postings. They applied affective disposition theory’s moral judgment predictions regarding message and audience factors and schadenfreude, the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune, to explain reactions to similar social media posts.

According to the authors, “We manipulated two message factors: whether the poster was dogmatic or uncertain in their anti–COVID-19-vaccination stance and whether they expressed regret before they died. Dogmatic posting resulted in perceptions of the poster as more immoral and deserving of worse health outcomes, but regret mitigated these effects. Notably, political party and vaccination status, two audience factors, moderated these processes.”

They add, “Our findings demonstrate that social media posting is a morally relevant behavior and that narrative moral judgment theories seem capable of explaining reader’s responses.”

Posted: July 25, 2023
Category: College News, Covid-19 Updates, Research News
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