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Ambiguity and unintended inferences about risk messages for COVID-19

Holford, Dawn Liu and Sirota, Miroslav and Juanchich, Marie (2022) 'Ambiguity and unintended inferences about risk messages for COVID-19.' Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. ISSN 1076-898X (In Press)

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The World Health Organization established that the risk of suffering severe symptoms from COVID-19 is higher for some groups, but this does not mean their chances of infection are higher. However, public health messages often highlight the “increased risk” for these groups such that the risk could be interpreted as being about contracting an infection rather than suffering severe symptoms from the illness (as intended). Stressing the risk for vulnerable groups may also prompt inferences that individuals not highlighted in the message have lower risk than previously believed. In five studies, we investigated how UK residents interpreted such risk messages about COVID-19 (n = 396, n = 399, n = 432, n = 474) and a hypothetical new virus (n = 454). Participants recognised that the risk was about experiencing severe symptoms, but over half also believed that the risk was about infection, and had a corresponding heightened perception that vulnerable people were more likely to be infected. Risk messages that clarified the risk event reduced misinterpretations for a hypothetical new virus, but existing misinterpretations of coronavirus risks were resistant to correction. We discuss the need for greater clarity in public health messaging by distinguishing between the two risk events.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: COVID-19; risk perception; public health messaging; risk events; pragmatic inferences
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health
Faculty of Science and Health > Psychology, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 18 Nov 2021 11:18
Last Modified: 28 May 2022 03:35

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