Abstract: Through an online, nationally representative survey (N = 1,164), this study examines how individuals perceive and cope with infectious disease outbreaks. Findings inform risk and crisis communications strategies for health organizations. This study explored how individuals’ threat appraisals (perceived controllability, perceived predictability, and perceived responsibility) and their cognitive (i.e., information seeking) and conative coping (i.e., protective actions) differ by infectious disease threat (IDT) type (i.e., airborne, bloodborne, foodborne, sexually-transmitted, waterborne, or zoonotic/vector-borne) in epidemic situations. Findings revealed that IDT types varied significantly based on individuals’ appraisals of predictability, controllability, and responsibility for different disease types. Across all disease types, predictability was the most impactful factor related to participants’ information seeking and planned protective action taking.
Yan Jin, Irina A. Iles, Lucinda Austin, Brooke Liu, and Gregory R. Hancock (Forthcoming). “The Infectious Disease Threat (IDT) Appraisal Model: How Perceptions of IDT Predictability and Controllability Predict Individuals’ Responses to Risks.” International Journal of Strategic Communication.
Abstract: Grounded in the multidisciplinary field of strategic risk and health communication, this study proposed and tested a new infectious disease threat (IDT) appraisal model, focused on mapping individuals’ coping strategy preferences as predicted by their perceived predictability and controllability of the disease. A 2 (predictability: high vs. low) × 2 (controllability: high vs. low) within-subjects online experimental design (N = 1,032 U.S. adults) was employed, in which four IDT scenarios (sexually transmitted infection [STI]; waterborne ID; foodborne ID; vector-borne ID) were shown to participants in a counterbalanced fashion, to examine the effects of IDT appraisals on how individuals cope with outbreaks. Results support the hypothesized model, in which assessments of predictability, controllability, and responsibility of an IDT situation drive individuals’ affect valence, information seeking, and conative reactions in passive and active ways. Findings further provide insights into what information seeking strategies and IDT coping behaviors individuals prefer based on their differential IDT appraisals, thus suggesting how public health authorities and risk communication professionals can optimally communicate about infectious diseases to help individuals understand these situations and respond appropriately.