Who Is Listening? Spokesperson Effect on Communicating Social and Physical Distancing Measures During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ahmad Abu-Akel, Andreas Spitz, Robert West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Effective communication during a pandemic, such as the current COVID-19 crisis, can save lives. At the present time, social and physical distancing measures are the lead strategy in combating the spread of COVID-19. In this study, a survey was administered to 705 adults from Switzerland about their support and practice of social distancing measures to examine if their responses depended on (1) whether these measures were supported by a government official or an internationally recognized celebrity as a spokesperson, (2) whether this spokesperson was liked, and (3) the respondent’s age. We also considered several attitudinal and demographic variables that may influence the degree to which people support and comply with social distancing measures. We found that the government official was more effective in eliciting responses supportive of social distancing, particularly as manifested in the stated current compliance with social distancing measures. The effect was substantially stronger among older respondents, although these respondents expressed a lower risk perception. Although there was a general trend for greater endorsement of the social distancing measures among participants who liked the spokesperson, this was non-significant. In addition, respondents’ greater support and compliance was positively associated with (1) higher concern for the current situation, (2) higher concern for the well-being of others, and (3) greater belief that others were practicing social distancing, and negatively with (4) greater self-reported mobility. Current compliance correlated negatively with (5) household size. Since different parts of the population appear to have different perceptions of risk and crisis, our preliminary results suggest that different spokespersons may be needed for different segments of the population, and particularly for younger and older populations. The development of evidence-based knowledge is required to further identify who would be the most effective spokesperson, and in particular to groups with low risk perception and low compliance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number564434
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume11
DOIs
StatePublished - 12 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the EPFL/UNIL Collaborative Research on Science and Society (CROSS) Program and the Swiss Data Science Center, and by a gift from Google. The funders were not involved in the study design, collection, analysis, interpretation of data, the writing of this article or the decision to submit it for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Abu-Akel, Spitz and West.

Keywords

  • celebrity
  • COVID-19
  • effective communication
  • pandemic (COVID-19)
  • public health messaging
  • spokesperson

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)

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