Associate Professor of Speech Josh Compton earns top paper award in Health Communication

Alicia Mason of Pittsburg State University and Josh Compton of Dartmouth College were awarded a "Top Four Paper" distinction by the Health Communication Interest Group of the Central States Communication Association for their research, Severity, susceptibility, efficacy, certainty and salience: Insights from early-stage "vestedness" of Midwestern populations toward the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The paper will be presented at a virtual conference in March.
In their study, Mason and Compton examine the efficacy of public health risk information messages during the COVID-19 global pandemic. They confirmed that younger people saw COVID-19 differently than the ways older people saw COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic. Based on their findings, Mason and Compton reason that health campaigns should take special care to tailor messages for different audiences based on how they see the severity of COVID-19 and their susceptibility to it. 
One messaging strategy that seems to hold particular promise, they suggest, is inoculation theory. Inoculation theory explains how people can be made more resistant to misunderstandings.  The theory has been used to guide successful health communication campaigns, and one of its unique benefits is that it can boost people's perception of their "vestedness," or involvement, with a topic. 
"It's an exciting idea, isn't it? That we might be able to harness a messaging strategy based on the biological processes of inoculation—inoculation theory—to help meet the challenges of an actual virus," Compton said. 
Mason and Compton are now at work on a companion piece to their study. They are looking at how knowledge about COVID-19 plays a role in how people think and feel about COVID-19, and how this information might also inform better health campaign strategies. 
"Maybe we can inoculate against COVID-19 and against misunderstandings about COVID-19," Compton said. "That combination gives us hope."