The effect of bioterrorism media messages on anxiety levels
Lightstone, Sandi N.
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Over the past two decades, many studies have acknowledged the role of stress and anxiety as important contributors to both the onset of and susceptibility to illness and compromised health. One study found that individuals already experiencing life stressors were more susceptible to perceiving external events as stressful and were more susceptible to adverse health related outcomes in the face of stress. Since elevated stress and anxiety can have an adverse affect on health outcomes, messages that elevate these variables have the potential of being harmful.;My previous study of bioterrorism media messages and stress levels (Lightstone & Cohen, 2000) found a significant relationship between the two. Specifically, increases in scores on the Stress-Arousal Checklist (SACL) were higher in the experimental condition versus the control condition, indicating an increase in stress and arousal after reading an article about a bioterrorism incident occurring in the United States. Indeed, after the September 11th attack on the United States and well before the first anthrax incident, stress and anxiety were linked to bioterrorism in many articles, as Americans flocked to their doctors in search of a prescription for Cipro as well as sedatives.;The current study assesses the role of health-directed media messages on levels of anxiety. Specifically, could the current public health messages concerning bioterrorism have a direct impact on anxiety levels that, in turn, could impact health outcomes? As increased anxiety exposure appears to predispose individuals to disease development, it is important to ascertain potential sources of anxiety. This study evaluated anxiety by utilizing the State-Trait Anxiety Questionnaire (STAI), and measured pre and post bioterrorism knowledge by administering a general knowledge questionnaire. The Noncontingent Outcome Instrument (NOI) was also utilized in order to measure pessimism regarding uncontrolled events, as bioterrorism incidents or media coverage of the same, are uncontrolled stimuli.;A convenience sample of 116 graduate students at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology participated in the study. Parametric and non-parametric tests, correlational analyses, as well as frequency crosstabulations were employed in order to examine the association of bioterrorism media messages with the variables of investigation.;Results indicated that graphic bioterrorism media messages resulted in increased anxiety levels which could impact on health-related outcomes.