Yarraman Flu or Horse Flu? Words and Graphics Influence Willingness to Vaccinate

“Yarraman flu is a virus quickly infecting the U.S. .…” The mock announcement was enough to make readers worry. But when the name of the hypothetical illness was changed to “horse flu”, the news elicited a different reaction. Readers were not as concerned, and reported being less motivated to get a vaccine that would prevent them from contracting the illness.

Graphics, too, altered perceptions of risk. Even though each of three graphics presented the same information, colorful heat maps in which the point of outbreak blazed red consistently triggered stronger reactions than bar-type graphs and dot maps that punctuate geographical distribution of the influenza.

Based on a survey of 16,510 participants from 11 countries, the findings show that the way health information is communicated, matters. A research collaboration between scientists at University of Utah Health, University of Michigan, University of Iowa, and Radboud University in the Netherlands, was published as two studies: one recently in Vaccine and the second in Emerging Infectious Diseases on June 21.

“Our results highlight that choices for public communications about health issues cannot be made simply by convenience or without consideration,” says Angie Fagerlin, Ph.D., chair of population health sciences at U of U Health. “If we can present information in ways that increase the public’s understanding, it’s a win for everybody.”

Read the compete article at University of Utah's UHealth website.