Coping with Outbreaks: Towards an Infectious Disease Threat (IDT) Appraisal Model for Risk Communication

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.

How College Students Assess the Threat of Infectious Diseases: Implications for University Leaders and Health Communicators.

Abstract: Higher education institutions and their students face a wide range of infectious disease threats (IDTs). However, there is a lack of theory-driven research on how to provide communication for multiple IDTs to motivate protective action taking. To close this gap, this study focuses on college students and two IDT types: respiratory and sexually transmitted infections. We tested an IDT appraisal model with data from an online survey conducted at two U.S. universities with 842 students. Findings indicate that IDT type led to different patterns of threat appraisal and protective action taking intentions. More specifically, participants perceived sexually transmitted threats as significantly more predictable and more controllable than respiratory threats. Participants also had higher intention to take protective action in response to respiratory threats than sexually-transmitted threats. We also found that external-attribution-dependent (EAD) emotions (i.e., anger, sadness, surprise, and confusion) and an internal-attribution-dependent (IAD) emotion (i.e., hope) were sequential mediators in the relationship between IDT appraisal and protective action taking intentions for both infectious disease types. Implications for IDT communication research and practice are discussed.

The Infectious Disease Threat (IDT) Appraisal Model: How Perceptions of IDT Predictability and Controllability Predict Individuals’ Responses to Risks

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.

True or False: How Parents Decide to Seek, Vet, or Share Infectious Disease Outbreak Information

Accepted for presentation at the International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference (ICRCC), March 9-11, 2020, Orlando, FL.

Abstract: Numerous studies have explored how publics seek and share crisis information, but none has examined whether publics verify the accuracy of crisis and risk information before sharing the information or seeking additional information. These considerations are especially important during potential health risks and public health crises.  The present study surveys parents of children ages 10 or younger to explore how they vet information regarding a potential measles outbreak and other potential infectious disease outbreaks.

Communicating about Infectious Disease Threats: Insights from Public Health Information Officers

Abstract: The public health communication challenges that arise in times of infectious disease threats (IDTs) were examined using the Risk Amplification through Media Spread (RAMS) Framework and in-depth phone interviews with 40 national, state, and local public health information officers (PIOs).  Interviewees shared their experiences and insights related to how IDTs are communicated to the public, including the different types of traditional and social media used, how they develop and assess IDT messages, and their perceptions regarding the IDT risk amplification process.  Theoretical and practical implications for health public relations and public health communication are discussed.