The source of COVID-19 messaging plays a role in how effective it is, according to researchers, in a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

In the study, funded by the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy (InCHIP) at the University of Connecticut and included nearly 1,000 participants, the research team tested the effectiveness of different messages encouraging coronavirus safety measures such as wearing a mask or social distancing.

Messages systematically varied in several ways, including who was attributed as the source of the message. Participants were told messages came from President Donald Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Trump and the CDC, a local or state health agency, or no source.

The team found when Trump’s name was associated with the message, the effectiveness of those messages decreased, not just compared to other sources, but even when there was no source at all, a media release from the University of Connecticut.

To Be Believed, the Source Must Be Trustworthy

“Asking the public to restrict their behavior and social ties in such a big way is a difficult sell. For these prevention messages to be believed, they have to come from a trusted source. We are in uncharted waters when it comes to effectively persuading people to wear masks and socially distance, and that’s why we thought conducting this study was so important.”

— UConn Health’s Howard Tennen, a professor of public health sciences in the School of Medicine and a member of the research team

After receiving a postcard encouraging citizens to engage in social distancing and other prevention behaviors with Trump’s name prominently featured, Boynton wondered whether this unusual messaging strategy was more effective compared to the traditional approach of citing a public health agency or organization as the message source.

Interestingly, the researchers found even participants who said they trust Trump did not find messages from him more effective compared to other message sources. However, those who said they do not trust the president found the messages significantly less effective when associated with Trump, per the release.

“Linking President Trump to prevention messages seems to work to the detriment of what those messages were trying to do.”

— Marcella Boynton ’05 (MA) ’09 (PhD), an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a member of the research team, and affiliate of InCHIP

Findings Aid Determination of Best Strategies

These findings are important as various agencies and news outlets are trying to determine the best strategies to ensure these health messages are as effective as possible.

The team hopes to complete a follow up study examining how these types of messages affect people’s engagement in prevention behaviors such as wearing a mask.

“I think behavioral science has a lot to contribute to stopping COVID-19, but so far, its potential has been underrealized and underutilized. Until we have better treatments or a vaccine, a big part of stopping the spread of this disease is going to be about changing behavior.”

— Marcella Boynton

[Source(s): University of Connecticut, Newswise]

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