From youth vaping prevention education campaigns to emergency announcements during various outbreaks, persuasive communication approaches are important in public health.
A new one survey co-authored by Lucy D’Agostino McGowan, assistant professor of Statistics IN Wake Forest University, takes a closer look at how transparency in messaging can affect community response. Hannah Mendoza worked with D’Agostino McGowan as part of her honors thesis as an undergraduate.
How it all began
Their research was prompted by early recommendations from officials surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which called into question how decisions and guidelines related to science and public health are communicated to the public. One of them was disguise.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutions initially recommended against wearing masks; maybe if there had been more nuance included in the initial communication, then there might have been better concordance with the later recommendations when they eventually recommended masking,” D’Agostino McGowan said.
“For example, they could have stated the reason, such as ‘we recommend not wearing masks at this time because we don’t yet have evidence that they would help with this pathogen’. Or, ‘our best masking studies are based on influenza’. If there had simply been more context, then perhaps uptake would have been different when the recommendation changed.”
Conducting a randomized trial
To prove this, D’Agostino McGowan and Mendoza created a hypothetical scenario that was not directly related to the pandemic. Participants were presented with questions that centered around a basic inquiry: do you disinfect your cell phone?
Nearly 600 individuals from across the country were part of the randomized study. These participants were then split into two groups with half receiving a healthy one only the recommendation and the other half receive a recommendation with more transparent information about why the decision was being made.
“What we found is that for people who would have been reluctant to follow the final health recommendation, if you give them the actual rationale behind it from the start, they are more likely to follow the final recommendation compared to those who are not show transparent information in the initial one.”
Why research is meaningful
It is important to note that communications in public health can change rapidly and recommendations are often based on the data available for the target population. But even if complete information isn’t available, D’Agostino McGowan said clear, concise and direct messaging that includes a “why” is key to increasing public response and building trust in communities.
The study is important because it has implications that extend beyond the public health arena.