James Cook University Jocelyn Wale Seminar Series

Lab member Emily Kothe presented at James Cook University as part of the Jocelyn Wale Seminar Series. It was Emily’s first visit to Townsville and she appreciated the opportunity to speak with the outstanding staff and students in the School of Psychology there.

The abstract for Emily’s talk is below.

“Fear and coping – a theory based approach to understanding people’s intention to protect themselves from health and environmental risks”

Misinformation and false beliefs regarding scientific information threaten public health and wellbeing, this is most clear in the context of vaccination and climate change. In both domains, misinformation and false beliefs undermine strategies to change individual beliefs, behaviours, and public policy. Despite government and philanthropic appetite for effects to intervention, findings suggest that persuasive messages that aim to change beliefs (and combat misinformation) in these domains are often ineffective. Even more worryingly, some types of persuasive messages have been shown to result in backfire effects, where messages have the unintended effect of entrenching maladaptive responses (i.e. vaccine hesitancy and climate change denial). As such, naive interventions to decrease climate change denial, and ensure complete and on-schedule vaccination may exacerbate an already increasing problem. Identifying messages that are effective in changing beliefs and behaviour without entrenching maladaptive responses is a key challenge for climate change and vaccine researchers. I will present a line of research that uses psychological theory (Protection Motivation Theory) to design and evaluate persuasive messages in these two domains (vaccination and climate change) in order to meet this challenge.