04 September 2020

COVID-19 Message Source Effectiveness

Welcome back. I’m going to guess that your abode was one of the 130 million that received a postcard from President Trump last March recommending coronavirus prevention behaviors. The postcard, which cost the US Postal Service $28 million, had the president’s name in large bold font since they were his guidelines; small White House and CDC logos were included on the side.
Front of President Trump’s coronavirus postcard
(from talkingpointsmemo.com/news/trump-branded-coronavirus-mailer).
At the time, I wondered why a postcard was being used for a public health message. More, I was perturbed to see Trump's name, which meant it was just a political ad from the anti-science figure who ignores preventive behaviors. I took the only responsible action open to me and tossed the postcard in the recycling.

But a team of researchers affiliated with North Carolina, Connecticut and East Carolina universities, together with an independent researcher from Michigan, were much more productive. Recognizing how critical it is that the public receive accurate, credible, updated information on coronavirus prevention, they investigated the effect of message source on perceived message effectiveness and reactance (i.e., the adverse reaction to a message).

Back of President Trump’s coronavirus postcard
(from talkingpointsmemo.com/news/trump-branded-coronavirus-mailer).
Testing Message Source
The researchers conducted an online experiment from 31 May to 16 June. They enlisted 934 participants (51% female, 61% White, mean age 42; in 2016, 38% voted from Clinton, 23% for Trump) and had each participant rate 5 randomly assigned coronavirus prevention messages from a pool of 2,652 messages.

The messages varied systematically by protective behavior (wash your hands, stay 6 feet away from others, avoid social gatherings, wear a mask, stay home), message source (President Trump and CDC, President Trump, CDC, state health department, local health department, no source) and messaging frame. For example, “Protect the people who need it most. Wear a mask. This message is brought to you by President Donald Trump.”

For each of the 5 assigned messages, the participants rated 3 statements of message effectiveness--This message is informative, …credible, …persuasive, and 3 statements of reactance--This message is trying to manipulate me, …annoys me, …trying to interfere with my personal freedom. Rating options were strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat agree and strongly agree.

Of the message sources, the CDC, state health department, local health department and even no source all elicited more positive message responses than the postcard campaign source, President Trump and CDC. The source of President Trump alone resulted in the lowest positive responses and highest levels of reactance. While that didn’t improve when limited to participants who reported at least some trust in President Trump, the responses were significantly worse for participants who reported no trust in the president.

Wrap Up
Overall, the results suggest that the original postcard coronavirus prevention message that I and probably you received would have been more effective if it came from the CDC or state or local health departments. Attaching the names of political figures to coronavirus messaging efforts may be a missed opportunity to leverage the credibility of public health institutions and can undercut the message impact.

That finding may have important implications for school opening as well as vaccination announcements, which are already challenged by numerous anti-vaccination websites.

Thanks for stopping by.

Study of coronavirus message sources in American Journal of Preventive Medicine: www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(20)30371-8/fulltext#tbl0001
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-08/uoc-scm082720.php
Example articles regarding postcard:
Why trust is lacking--compendium of president’s coronavirus lies on The Atlantic website: www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/08/trumps-lies-about-coronavirus/608647/

No comments:

Post a Comment