Consuming Memes During the COVID Pandemic: Effects of Memes and Meme Type on COVID-Related Stress and Coping Efficacy

Jessica Gall Myrick, Robin L. Nabi, Nicholas J. Eng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

As COVID-19 quickly spread across the globe, social media memes (i.e., typically humorous or cute images related to popular culture) about life in a pandemic also spread across the Internet. We conducted a between-subjects online experiment (N = 748) to assess how viewing memes during this pandemic era may influence audiences’ stress and coping. In terms of psychological responses, we found that meme viewing (vs. nonmeme content) was associated with stronger cuteness responses, higher levels of reported humor, more positive emotions, and lower levels of information processing. However, meme viewing was not associated with state anxiety, COVID-19-related stress, or COVID-19-related coping efficacy. Furthermore, because memes generated positive emotions that were in turn related to increased COVID-19 coping efficacy, a path analysis found that viewing memes, as compared with nonmeme content, indirectly increased COVID-19 coping efficacy. Looking at the effects of meme type, we found that memes featuring animals were rated as cuter than memes with humans, though the former engendered lower information processing and predicted lower coping efficacy than did human memes.Cuteness responses, generally, were associated with decreased coping efficacy. In contrast, meme captions related to COVID-19 were related to deeper information processing and lower levels of COVID-19-related stress than were captions unrelated to COVID-19. Information processing was, in turn, associated with increased coping efficacy. This research demonstrates that memes, particularly those that relate to a highly stressful context, may help support efforts to cope with the stressor

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology of Popular Media
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

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