“As the pandemic kept dragging on, it became more and more interesting to me how people were using social media and memes in particular, as a way to think about the pandemic,” Jessica Gall Myrick, lead author of the study and a professor at Pennsylvania State University said.
After measuring how nervous or stressed each participant felt, researchers showed one group three randomly selected memes – some of which had captions related to Covid-19. A separate control group was shown plaint text and no images.
People from both groups were asked to rate what they had seen based on the humour and cuteness, and also the levels of anxiety and positive emotions such as calmness, relaxation and happiness they felt afterwards.
They were also asked to rate how much the media caused them to think about other information they knew about Covid-19, their confidence in their ability to cope with the pandemic and how stressed they feel about the virus.
“We found that viewing just three memes can help people cope with the stress of living during a global pandemic,” Myrick said.
Those who viewed memes reported higher levels of positive emotions than those who did not, and those who were shown memes with captions related to Covid-19 reported lower levels of stress.
Additionally, people who viewed Covid-19-related memes thought more deeply about the content they had seen and felt more confident in their ability to cope with the pandemic.
Myrick said the findings suggest that social media content about stressful public events can help people process the news without getting overwhelmed by it.
“While the World Health Organisation recommended that people avoid too much Covid-related media for the benefit of their mental health, our research reveals that memes about Covid-19 could help people feel more confident in their ability to deal with the pandemic,” she said.
“If we are all more conscious of how our behaviours – including time spent scrolling – affect our emotional states, then we will better be able to use social media to help us when we need it and to take a break from it when we need that instead.”
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