Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Lawrence D. Cohn


The dissemination of public health messages via social media is a growing phenomenon that is changing the health communication landscape (Chou, Hunt, Beckjord, Mojer, & Hesse, 2009). Few studies have investigated how individuals process health-threatening information. This study addressed this gap in knowledge. Specifically, the current study investigated the impact of coping style on an individual's attention to health-threatening and health-promoting words on an attention task. The current study also investigated the impact of coping style on the recall of health-threatening, health-promoting, and neutral words contained in a diabetes health message. In addition, the current study investigated if coping style influences the way individuals frame a message when "sharing" information with other social media users after reading a diabetes health message.

This study addressed those aims using two experimental tasks. The first task was a dot probe task to detect any difference in attention to health-threatening and health-promoting words. The second task asked participants to read a diabetes health message and Tweet about what they read. This novel approach was used to measure memory recall, Tweet valence, and the number of health-threatening and health-promoting words or phrases used to construct Tweets. Data analyses included a three-step hierarchical regression model. Step 1 included health anxiety and perceived risk for developing diabetes scores. Step 2 included state anxiety and trait anxiety scores. Finally, Step 3 included monitoring and blunting coping scores.

The final models for all dependent variables were not statistically significant. However, several bivariate correlations were found. Namely, the higher the health anxiety score, the fewer health-promoting keywords recalled (β = -0.19, p = 0.01). Exploratory analyses revealed a primacy effect. Specifically, when health-promoting information was presented first, participant Tweets contained more health-promoting keywords, demonstrated a higher health-promoting valence, and used more health-promoting words and phrases. The results from this study will inform future health communication research on dissemination via social media. This study's innovative approach of investigating reaction times and responses to a health message to create a fuller picture of information processing will add to the health communication literature on how to better assess attention to, and use of, health information.




Received from ProQuest

File Size

131 pages

File Format


Rights Holder

Katherine Marie Aguirre