Home Gesundheit Es ist nicht unmöglich, tief verwurzelte Gesundheitsüberzeugungen zu ändern

Es ist nicht unmöglich, tief verwurzelte Gesundheitsüberzeugungen zu ändern

von NFI Redaktion

On April 18, 2024, it turns out that convincing people to rethink their deeply rooted beliefs on a wide range of health topics is not an impossible task, akin to rolling a large boulder up a steep hill repeatedly like Sisyphus. Persuading individuals with entrenched views on issues such as COVID vaccination, mental health stigma, and GMO food can be achieved. However, as new findings show, how you deliver the message is just as crucial as what you say.

A traditional public health message like „Get vaccinated. It’s good for your health and others“ usually doesn’t prompt immediate change in opinions for many people. This may be one reason why only 23% of Americans have received the latest COVID booster shot, as reported by the CDC.

In contrast, in a study, hearing from someone who previously resisted the COVID vaccine explain in their own words why they changed their mind was found to prompt some individuals to reconsider their stance.

These were not individuals who were „undecided“ about getting the vaccine. Years into the COVID pandemic, unvaccinated individuals „likely have some pretty deep-seated views,“ said lead researcher Jeff Conlin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas. „And we have still seen success.“

These „two-sided conversion messages“ are effective because people first identify with the individual holding the opposing view and are then more open to learning why that person underwent a change in opinion and got vaccinated. Authenticity is also key—stories work best when narrators have experienced the story themselves.

In a study comparing 384 unvaccinated adults receiving either a conversion message or a one-sided account from someone who had always intended to get vaccinated, the most significant reduction in hesitancy was seen with the conversion stories for the most vaccine-resistant individuals. The full study was published online in the journal Health Communication in December 2023.

It’s not just about adopting new perspectives, noted Conlin. These messages also help people „realize that their previous beliefs may have been misinformed or misguided.“

Conversion messages could also influence other prevalent health beliefs. „We are just beginning to test conversion messages related to mental health stigma,“ said Conlin. The aim is to test the strategy using a specific story of someone who was previously resistant to seeking help, treatment, and support for conditions like anxiety or depression, and why they later changed their mind.

In another study, researchers examined how conversion messages affect attitudes toward another controversial topic—genetically modified plants. In contrast to Conlin’s study, these researchers found that the strength of the message was paramount, leading to potential lasting changes in attitudes. The study was published in the journal Public Understanding of Science in April 2019.

Offering People a Choice?

Simply giving people the option to choose the brand of the COVID vaccine could also increase acceptance, according to research from the University of Oregon. „People enjoy choice,“ said study author Ellen Peters, PhD, Director of the Center for Science Communication Research at the University of Oregon. „People feel empowered when they have a choice and therefore may prefer the option they chose more than if they had no chance to make the decision themselves.“

In multiple studies, people were more willing to get vaccinated for COVID if they could choose between Pfizer and Moderna, as opposed to being assigned one of them, said Peters, who is also a Psychology Professor at the University.

„COVID presented an unusual scenario for vaccines. For the first time, we had multiple vaccine brands that people could talk about and discuss,“ she said. „I think the tactic can work whenever multiple options are available.“ Conlin added, „What we want to do is study conversion messages for other conditions. That’s the goal.“

Perhaps Combine Strategies?

When asked about Conlin’s study and the two-sided messages, Peters commented, „It’s a fantastic idea to test vaccines, and I’m glad they did it.“ „It would be interesting to combine their approach with ours,“ Peters continued. The tactic she examined worked for individuals who were previously vaccinated and considering a booster shot, as well as unvaccinated individuals.

„Could the combination of their approach and ours further increase the number of people intending to get vaccinated, especially among those who are vaccine-hesitant?“ she questioned.

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