Impact of spokesperson identity on sharing of public health messages

February 03, 2021

Participants in an international survey study reported greater willingness to reshare a call for social distancing if the message was endorsed by well-known immunology expert Anthony Fauci, rather than a government spokesperson or celebrity. Ahmad Abu-Akel of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and colleagues Andreas Spitz and Robert West of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, report these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on February 3.

Previous research has extensively explored how to maximize the effectiveness of public health messages by altering their style and content. However, relatively few studies have examined the impact of spokesperson identity on the effectiveness of health messages, especially during crises like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

To better understand this impact, Abu-Akel , Spitz, and West conducted a survey of 12,194 people from six countries in March of 2020. The survey was framed as an evaluation of people's perspectives on the pandemic. It included a question about participants' willingness to share a message that encouraged social distancing, ostensibly endorsed by one of four randomly selected spokespersons: Fauci, Tom Hanks (who had notably contracted COVID-19), Kim Kardashian, or a prominent government official from the survey taker's country.

The researchers found that, across all six countries (Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.S.), participants reported greater willingness to share the social-distancing message if told it was endorsed by Fauci versus any of the other three spokespersons. This preference held true after accounting for participants' varying demographics and attitudes towards social distancing.

Endorsement by the celebrities was less likely to prompt willingness to share than endorsement by a government official, or no endorsement at all. Participants who were older or reported positive sentiments toward their randomly selected spokesperson were more likely to be willing to share the message.

These findings could help guide governments' selection of the best spokespeople to convey public health messages in order to maximize their effectiveness, for example to encourage vaccine acceptance. Future research could examine the impact of other spokespersons, such as religious leaders, and explore which traits make certain spokespersons more effective than others.

The authors add: "While we observed spokespersons who were liked by their audience to be more effective at increasing respondents' willingness to re-distribute a public health message, the relative effectiveness between expert, government, and celebrity spokespersons did not change, with the expert being the most effective. Thus, identifying and empowering liked and trusted experts is a key component of effective public health communication during the ongoing pandemic, and it is likely preferable to using celebrity advocates."
-end-
Citation: Abu-Akel A, Spitz A, West R (2021) The effect of spokesperson attribution on public health message sharing during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS ONE 16(2): e0245100.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245100

Funding: AA and RW received funding by a grant from the EPFL/UNIL Collaborative Research on Science and Society (CROSS) Program. RW received financial support from the Swiss Data Science Center. RW was in part supported by a gift from Google and Facebook. Reception of these gifts does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: AA and RW received funding by a grant from the EPFL/UNIL Collaborative Research on Science and Society (CROSS) Program. RW received financial support from the Swiss Data Science Center and by grant 200021_185043 from the Swiss National Science Foundation. RW was in part supported by a gift from Google and Facebook. Reception of these gifts does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE:
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0245100

PLOS

Related Health Messages Articles from Brightsurf:

Generic public health messages work best at shifting dietary behaviours
A new health economics study warns that health information which offers specific advice tailored to individuals can inadvertently often backfire.

Wording of vaccination messages influences behavior
An experiment by Washington State University researchers revealed that relatively small differences in messages influenced people's attitudes about the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine, which has been shown to help prevent cancer.

Video messages may help spread the word about antibiotic risks
Antibiotics are important drugs that can save lives, but using them too often can lead to dangerous strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Nutrimedia, a resource that assesses the veracity of messages about food and nutrition
The journal PLOS ONE has published an article that explains the methodology used by Nutrimedia to assess the veracity of messages about nutrition.

Brain measurements can reveal success of alcohol risk messages
By studying how our brains 'synchronise' during shared experiences, social neuroscientists at the University of Konstanz show if alcohol risk messages catch on in an audience and lead to a reduction in drinking.

Motivational text messages help patients with diabetes
A low-cost text-messaging program improves blood sugar control in patients with diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Half of young drinkers are unaware of health messages on alcohol packaging
Just half of 11-19 year old drinkers recall seeing health messages or warnings on alcohol packaging -- despite being an important target market for this information, according to new research.

Text messages show promise as next step for improving heart health in China
Motivational text messages are a well-liked, feasible new way to provide additional support to Chinese patients with heart disease, reports a preliminary study by researchers at Yale and in China.

Could theatre be way forward in communicating conservation messages?
Theatre performances in zoos can be effective in increasing knowledge of important conservation messages, a study at the University of York has revealed.

Interactive websites may cause antismoking messages to backfire
Health communicators should carefully choose interactive features for their websites because tools that can make some websites more engaging for some audiences could actually discourage other users from adopting healthy behaviors, according to researchers.

Read More: Health Messages News and Health Messages Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.