186184 Communicating conflicting government directives during pandemic flu

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Karen Hilyard , Advertising and Public Relations, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Using a generalizable, national, random sample and theoretical underpinnings of two-sided messages such as attribution theory, optimal arousal theory and the discounting hypothesis, this study examines the most effective ways of persuading the public to comply with government directives in a flu pandemic. The U.S. plan currently calls for two key pandemic flu directives: “social distancing,” including staying home from work, school, shopping, places of worship and other public gatherings, and “public queuing,” the author's term for centralized mass distribution of medicines, vaccines and other supplies. The research examines implications of the potential contradiction in telling people to make financial, social and psychological sacrifices to isolate themselves while simultaneously encouraging them to gather at distribution centers. Using a 2x3 experimental design to present these policies in various ways, the author explores the impact of such mixed messages on behavioral intention and source credibility to predict whether perceived contradictions might lead people to discount risks and disregard recommendations. The study may also enlighten other areas of health communication where mixed messages currently lead to inaction, denial, or other risky and dysfunctional responses.

Learning Objectives:
-- Identify potential problems in communicating pandemic flu policy to the general public -- Create more effective pre-event and event messaging for pandemic flu -- Construct better messages related to other health issues that may inherently mixed messages -- Articulate theory-based empirical findings to support the choice of particular words, phrases and communication tools

Keywords: Health Communications, Risk Communication

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am completing my doctorate in journalism and mass communication and have spent the last two years as a research assistant on a project to build health risk communication capacity for the state of Georgia, especially in the event of a pandemic.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.