September 21, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 35—Election falsehoods, and patient racial bias

Indiana University Media School professor Betsi Grabe says the current state of hardship in our country produces favorable conditions for an infodemic of people believing false claims. According to this research, large segments of the population are aware of unsupported narratives related to the fall 2020 election and believe some of these narratives are true, from a report by Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media. According to a recent survey, almost 80 percent of participants were aware of at least one of five unsupported narratives through media exposure, and just over 60 percent believed at least one of the narratives was true. About 39 percent did not believe any of the stories, which include unsubstantiated claims about mail-in election ballots, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. Grabe says uncertainty, anxiety, social isolation, economic hardship and spare time create near-perfect circumstances for unsupported narratives to sweep through social media, stifling access to reliable information, deepening doubt about the trustworthiness of mainstream journalism and fueling political polarization. But democracy hinges on well-informed citizens to select a president, she says, and in a post-election era, disinformation narratives have the potential to undermine the collective resilience of our nation to rebound on medical, economic, and political levels. In addition to looking at unsupported narratives, researchers also looked at the relationship between participants’ political leanings and their survey responses. It found more self-identified Republicans and Independents believed all five false narratives than Democrats. The research team will run five further surveys during the course of the fall election season.

In other news, IU researchers are examining how Black patients with mental health concerns evaluate verbal and non-verbal communication during treatment. A study by researchers at Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Regenstrief Institute evaluates how perceptions of racial bias influence patient engagement with their providers. It found that Black patients have significant fear of being negatively judged based on stereotypes. Johanne Eliacin, a research scientist with Regenstrief Institute and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, says there is a long history of hurt, distrust and perceived injustice in this country, so it's normal for minority patients to have their guard up when interacting with the healthcare system. She says verbal and non-verbal cues, like a patient's perception that a physician is subtly talking down to them because of the patient's race or social class, can have damaging consequences such as patients delaying medical care, underutilizing preventive and mental health care, less adherence to recommended therapy and poorer treatment outcomes, the researchers say. Eliacin says that while most healthcare providers are committed to providing good and equitable treatment to all patients regardless of their race or sexual-orientation, doctors, nurses and other clinicians are not immune to social and cultural influences that can lead to stereotyping and implicit racial bias -- major contributors to healthcare disparities.