Carnegie Mellon University
August 07, 2020

Fischhoff interviewed by the WHO on the importance of testing messages

EPP Professor Baruch Fischhoff was interviewed by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the importance of crafting clear and easy to understand messages to the public about the pandemic. Fischhoff, a noted psychologist and decision scientist, has been studying risk and human behavior since the 1970s and is an expert in the field.

Fischoff spoke about the importance of spending time crafting messages that the public will be able to easily understand. "It’s amazing how few messages are empirically tested, however great the health, economic, and political stakes," he said. "People with enormous responsibility just write down something that looks right to them and send it out... Not testing messages before putting them out is a kind of public health malpractice."

When speaking about what could be done differently, Fischhoff offers a recommendation; "With a small investment, we could have developed and tested generic messages, ready to adapt to specific situations. For example, we could have been ready to explain the epidemiological models that are so essential for understanding what’s happening. We could have been ready to explain how diseases spread, and the risk of transmission, including to people we may never even see. We could have reduced the confusion over mask recommendations meant to protect the people who wear them and the people who are near them." Fischhoff also recommended that governments communicate in a way that takes accounts of people’s beliefs. People, including experts, process new information in terms of their mental model, which is comprised of their assumptions, beliefs, experiences, and biases about the world. Fischhoff says that communicators need to be aware of these models in crafting their messages.

To read the full article, go here.