Testing Persuasive Messaging to Encourage COVID-19 Risk Reduction


Scott E. Bokemper, Gregory A. Huber, Erin K. James, Alan S. Gerber, Saad B. Omer


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Bokemper SE, Huber GA, James EK, Gerber AS, Omer SB (2022). Testing Persuasive Messaging to Encourage COVID-19 Risk Reduction. PLoS ONE 17(3): e0264782. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0264782
What types of public health messages are effective at changing people’s beliefs and intentions to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19? We conducted two randomized experiments in summer 2020 that assigned respondents to read a public health message and then measured their beliefs and behavioral intentions across a wide variety of outcomes. Using both a convenience sample and a pre-registered replication with a nationally representative sample of Americans, we find that a message that reframes not social distancing as recklessness rather than bravery and a message that highlights the need for everyone to take action to protect one another are the most effective at increasing beliefs and intentions related to social distancing. These results provide an evidentiary basis for building effective public health campaigns to increase social distancing during flu pandemics.
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