Mitigating COVID‑19 variant spread by leveraging social psychological and neurobiological markers to optimize public health communications during the first vaccine rollout.

Hall, Peter A | $496,565

Ontario University of Waterloo 2021 CIHR Operating Grant

Effective messaging to promote COVID‑19 mitigation behaviors is critical for drawing the pandemic to a close in Canada. Research across several health domains suggests that messaging that employ 3 elements-vivid imagery, making other’s mitigation behaviours salient (norms), and promote accepting short-term pain for long-term gain-increase protective behaviour. Additionally, research has found that messages that engage brain systems involved in attention capture and self-reflection are more likely to be acted upon. This project will use state-of-the-art theory and methods to identify optimal strategies for motivating COVID‑19 mitigation behaviors in the pandemic’s post-acute phase. Study 1 will be a 2-wave population on-line cohort survey of 2000 adults who have not received any vaccine shot. They will answer questions on key beliefs about COVID‑19 and relevant behaviours (Wave 1). They will be randomly assigned to view 4 PSAs that vary in whether they are vivid, provide information about others, and highlight long-term benefits of protective behaviour. They will then rate the 4 PSAs on quality, emotional impact, informativeness, and perceived effectiveness. At Wave 2 (4 months later), respondents will answer a survey with the same measures on beliefs and behaviours since Wave 1, including vaccination status and other mitigation behaviors. We hypothesize that those viewing PSAs that are vivid, emphasize norms, and make long-term benefits salient will be more likely to have engaged in mitigation behaviours (e.g., getting vaccinated). Study 2 will be a lab study where participants will view all PSAs, and rate each on the same Study 1 dimensions. Eye tracking technology and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) will identify which PSAs are most attention-capturing and lead to deepest self-reflection. These studies will identify which COVID‑19 PSAs are most effective for promoting vaccination and other mitigation measures for the current and future pandemics.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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