How do social media users process cancer prevention messages on Facebook? An eye-tracking study

Wen ying Sylvia Chou, Neha Trivedi, Emily Peterson, Anna Gaysynsky, Mindy Krakow, Emily Vraga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Objective: The quality of cancer-related information on social media (SM) is mixed, and exposure to inaccurate information may negatively affect knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. This study examines SM users’ attention to simulated Facebook posts related to cancer and identifies message features associated with increased attention. Methods: SM users (N = 53) participated in a mixed methods experimental study using eye-tracking technology, whereby participants’ dwell time on message components was measured. Stimuli conditions included message format (narrative/non-narrative), information veracity, source (organization/individual), and cancer topic (HPV vaccine and sunscreen safety). Results: Pixel-size adjusted analyses revealed that average dwell time was longer on posts attributed to individuals and on narrative-based posts. The source of the message received nearly the same amount of dwell time as the text. Dwell time on other message components did not significantly differ by condition. Conclusion: This study found that the source of a message attracted substantial attention, whereas other features were not associated with attention. The study illustrates how communication research can help us understand the processing of ubiquitous cancer-related messages on SM. Practical Implications: Health communication practitioners should consider message features that garner attention when developing efforts to facilitate the exchange of evidence-based information and to mitigate the harms of misinformation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1161-1167
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the following colleagues for their assistance with various aspects of the project: Sheel Shah, Jonathan Strohl, Edward Peirce of Fors Marsh Group, Anita Ousley and Silvia Salazar of the NCI HSI lab, Naomi Brown of Userworks, Dahye Yoon of Georgetown University, and Katherine Hyatt Hawkins of George Mason University. Work related to this manuscript was done as part of the Authors? research responsibilities as National Cancer Institute employees. Views expressed in the paper do not represent the official positions of the National Cancer Institute, NIH.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Cancer communication
  • Eye tracking
  • HPV vaccine
  • Misinformation
  • Social media
  • Sun safety


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