How did individual differences in neurocognition and health literacy influence the initial uptake and use of health-related information about COVID-19?

Michelle A. Babicz, Steven Paul Woods, Anastasia Matchanova, Luis D. Medina, Kenneth Podell, Rheeda L. Walker, Adam Fetterman, Samina Rahman, Briana Johnson, Jennifer L. Thompson, Kelli L. Sullivan, Ilex Beltran-Najera, Jasmin Brooks, Yenifer Morales, Gunes Avci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Introduction: The rapid development of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) into a pandemic required people to quickly acquire, evaluate, and apply novel complex health-related information about the virus and transmission risks. This study examined the potentially unique and synergistic roles of individual differences in neurocognition and health literacy in the early uptake and use of COVID-19 public health information. Method: Data were collected between April 23 and 21 May 2020, a period during which 42 out of 50 states were under a stay-at-home order. Participants were 217 healthy adults who completed a telephone-based battery that included standard tests of neurocognition, health literacy, verbal IQ, personality, and anxiety. Participants also completed measures of COVID-19 information-seeking skills, knowledge, prevention intentions, and prevention behaviors. Results: A series of hierarchical multiple regressions with data-driven covariates showed that neurocognition (viz, episodic verbal memory and executive functions) was independently related to COVID-19 knowledge (e.g. symptoms, risks) at a medium effect size, but not to information-seeking skills, prevention intentions, or prevention behaviors. Health literacy was independently related to all measured aspects of COVID-19 health information and did not interact with neurocognition in any COVID-19 health domain. Conclusions: Individual differences in neurocognition and health literacy played independent and meaningful roles in the initial acquisition of knowledge related to COVID-19, which is a novel human health condition. Future studies might examine whether neurocognitive supports (e.g. spaced retrieval practice, elaboration) can improve COVID-19-related knowledge and health behaviors in vulnerable populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-513
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Neuropsychological assessment
  • coronavirus
  • disease knowledge
  • health literacy
  • health psychology
  • prevention behaviors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Health Literacy
  • Male
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Behavior
  • Young Adult
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Adolescent
  • Individuality
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Aged

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Psychology


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