Hannah Stevens

Stevens studies issues of identity and media bias, emphasizing ways media messages can contribute to or counter health disparities.

We interviewed Hannah Stevens, a graduate student in the Department of Communication at UC Davis. In this interview, we asked Hannah to talk about her research and to share a fun fact about her personal life. We should also point out that Hannah Stevens is on the job market this year!

Can you tell us about project you recently completed or are working on that you are particularly excited about?

Hannah: Although people in early 2020 hoarded toilet paper, washed their hands incessantly, and wouldn't leave home, public health officials warned that 11 months later, the public pushed the envelope on COVID-19 safety precautions and ignored warnings as time went on. The paper, "Desensitization to Fear-Inducing COVID-19 Health News on Twitter: Observational Study," tests the hypothesis that early fear-based health messages in news reports significantly motivated individuals to take actions to control the threat, yet over-exposure to the same messages desensitized people — or made them less likely to feel anxious over time. During a period of 11 months, the team used a computerized methodology to analyze linguistic anxiety levels in hundreds of COVID-19 news articles on Twitter, along with the anxiety levels in corresponding user tweets. They then correlated the findings with the COVID-19 death toll in the United States. Findings revealed that COVID-19 news articles shared to Twitter were first met with anxiety-ridden tweets early in the pandemic, during a coinciding spike in instances of panic-buying, extreme social distancing, and quarantine measures. Despite the increased death toll, those behaviors then gave way over time to less concerned responses to COVID-19 news, along with increases in societal risk-taking during that time. This suggests that individuals' may become desensitized to news of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their emotional responses may be blunted over time. This work points to the need to recognize that decreased COVID-19 anxiety, doesn't equate to decreased COVID-19 health threat.

Where can we learn more about this research?

Hannah: You can access the journal article from the publisher website. The article has also generated news coverage on a number of sites including Very Well Health, Scientias, and The Daily Mail.

What is a fun fact about you that other people might not know?

Hannah: My life revolves around my 5-year-old rescue poodle, Cleo. When someone tries to make plans with me, the first thing that comes to mind is Cleo. Will I have to leave her by herself? Can she come with me? Chances are, I'm happy to meet up if Cleo can tag along!