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Target group specific risk communication requirements during a long-lasting COVID-19 crisis.

Brief description

Since the beginning of 2020, SARS-CoV-2 hotspots have originated all over the world. Strong measures to protect vulnerable groups from Sars-CoV-2 infection have been adopted by almost all countries, including Germany. Many of these measures require people to change habitual behaviors and will probably have to be maintained for a considerable period of time. The necessity to adopt these measures will have to be communicated to the public in a comprehensible manner. Given such phenomena like catastrophe fatigue and the prevention paradox, the challenges to adequate risk communication will probably increase over time, especially once the peak of the crisis seems to have passed without protective measures becoming unnecessary. The tightening and loosening of such measures may have to be gone through repeatedly. RiCoRT is going to develop a guide for effective communication concerning SARS-CoV-2 based on empirical evidence, experience with risk communication, and expert consensus. The guide will be tailored towards the long-term monitoring and control of the SARS-CoV-2 crisis.

RiCoRT investigates the nexus between risk perception and behavior change adapted to the COVID-19 crisis with reference to two target groups, young adults between 18 and 30 years of age and older people between 50 and 70 years of age. The whole chain of events from risk perception, risk awareness, the  behavior intention to act, and, finally, behavior change will be studied. A special focus will be on what is called ‘the risk perception paradox’. The risk perception paradox refers to the observation that often there is a gap between risk perception and preventive and/or protective behavior: The risk is perceived and acknowledged, but adaptive action does not follow. Given that the two target groups differ in their health status, their susceptibility for infections, and their vulnerability for severe courses and fatal outcomes, it seems likely that they also differ in their perception and evaluation of risk and that the obstacles in the way of adapting to a changing crisis and implementing risk-adaptive behavior are different for the two groups.

These issues will be investigated in an online-survey as well as in four focus groups. Additionally, target-group specific risk communication methods will be developed together with the target-groups. These are discussed with public health communication experts and other risk communication specialists via a group delphi (consensus method).

The RiCoRT project cooperates with the project "Fighting pandemics with enhanced risk communication: Messages, compliance and vulnerability during the COVID-19 outbreak” at the University of Stavanger (supported by the Research Council of Norway).