Trust: The Shrouded Public Health Threat

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic, characterized by unprecedented loss of life; political instability; and a global infodemic, has eroded public trust in all types of institutions (Edelman, 2021) except business. Public health efforts at managing the pandemic have consequently suffered as political polarization and rampant online misinformation has undermined the uptake of critical preventive measures such as masking and vaccinating (Nehum, et al., 2021). Public-facing health organizations are particularly vulnerable to trust erosion (Samson, 2021), as their relationships with publics are often matters of life and death. Their inability to address trust erosion could potentially result in fatalities and unintended societal consequences. Understanding the trust erosion process is integral to keeping the public safe and allowing these important organizations to continue fulfilling their public health and safety missions. This study proposes a new Trust Erosion Framework, grounded in extant trust scholarship and ongoing industry discussion, to describe and explain the trust erosion phenomenon and associated processes. Moreover, the study provides insight for health and risk communicators regarding the prevention, mitigation, conservation and restoration of trust among the public.

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.

Effects of Facebook Comments on Attitude Toward Vaccines: The Roles of Perceived Distributions of Public Opinion and Perceived Vaccine Efficacy

Abstract: This study investigated if and how exposure to Facebook comments about vaccines influences one’s attitude toward the vaccines. In this investigation, comments were examined in light of their effect on attitude toward vaccines through perceived distribution of public opinion on vaccines, and perceived vaccine efficacy was tested as a factor moderating relative effects of comments on perception of public opinion distributions. Results from an experimental study (N = 271) showed that exposure to a greater number of comments in a thread expressing (un)favorable opinions on the flu vaccine led to (un)favorable attitude toward the flu vaccine through a change in perceived distribution of public opinions on the vaccination. The indirect effect of comments on attitude toward the flu vaccine through perceived public opinion distributions was greater among participants with lower levels of perceived vaccine efficacy, while the direct effect of comments on attitude was not significant.

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.

Communicating with the Public During a Public Health Emergency

Glen Nowak is an invited panelist at the June 25-July 2 (virtual) annual meeting of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention. The panel session on June 29 is focused on “Investigation of a Potential Outbreak of Birth Defects,” and Glen’s presentation will be on “Communicating with the Public During a Public Health Emergency.”

Telling the Tale: The Role of Narratives in Helping People Respond to Crises.

Brooke Liu, Lucinda Austin, Yen-I Lee, Yan Jin, and Seoyeon Kim. (Forthcoming). “Telling the Tale: The Role of Narratives in Helping People Respond to Crises.” Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Abstract: During public health crises like infectious disease outbreaks, news media and governments are responsible for informing the public about how to protect themselves. A large body of health communication research finds that persuasive narratives motivate protective behaviors, such as intentions to vaccinate. In their seminal book on crisis narratives, Seeger and Sellnow (2016) theorized five narrative types: blame, renewal, victim, hero, and memorial. In this study, we tested how the public responds to crisis narratives about a hypothetical infectious disease crisis, modelled after narratives emerging from the 2014-2016 Ebola pandemic, through an online experiment with a U.S. adult sample (N = 1,050). Findings showcase which crisis narratives positively affect public protective behaviors as well as emotional responses, assessments of information credibility, and attributions of crisis responsibility.

“Effectively addressing opioid drug use and misuse: Identifying the crisis and risk communications challenges and opportunities.”

Abstract: The epidemic of opioid drug use and misuse in the United States and in many other continues unabated.  Communicating to healthcare practitioners, the public, news media, and those legally and illegally using opioids is unusually complex due to the multiple factors and varying use situations that have contributed to the current epidemic. To date, however, it does not appear a concerted effort has identified the crisis or risk communication challenges and opportunities that exist when it comes to opioids. As such, this project will use a literature search (including grey literature involving communication research) and expert interviews to identify the major crisis and risk communication challenges and opportunities involving opioid misuse. It will develop a framework that systematically organizes them and helps identify potentially effective communication practices and needed next steps based on what is known from communication research and efforts to date.

Pandemic influenza vaccines – Communication of benefits, risks, and uncertainties

Abstract:  Vaccines that would be recommended and offered in response to a novel influenza virus bring many communication challenges. This chapter identifies and describes some of the major issues that public health agencies and regulatory bodies, vaccine manufacturers, and healthcare professionals would face when it comes to pandemic influenza vaccines and immunization recommendations. It does so by drawing upon experiences, findings, and outcomes from the H1N1A influenza pandemic in 2009 that affected much of the world as well as lessons learned from annual influenza prevention efforts. It begins with challenges due to uncertainties and complexities brought by influenza viruses and then highlights experiences from different countries with a focus on France as a relevant example, illustrating the similarities and differences that can affect pandemic influenza vaccine communication. The final section of the chapter reflects on some key communication-related research findings as well as lessons learnt that can help guide those doing vaccination-related communication responses and efforts in future influenza pandemics.

“Communicating during an Outbreak or Public Health Investigation”

Abstract: Epidemiologists and medical investigators deployed to disease outbreaks and public health investigations involving illness and deaths often need to communicate the journalists, local officials, and community members. This chapter identifies and describes the communication approaches and principles needed for effective communication. Drawing from professional experience and published research, this chapter provides epidemiologists and medical investigators overviews and guidance on risk perception and communication, examples of messages used to facilitate trust during an outbreak response, working with the media, and effective messaging.