Blog Post

Cognitive Bias and Public Health Policy

As public health marketers it is our job to promote policies and behaviors that will promote informed decision making. To do this work, marketers must combat cognitive biases people may hold, especially when these biases would result in worse health outcomes.  While individual biases will always occur, we as marketers should keep them in mind when developing messaging.

Pandemics and Bias

The Covid-19 pandemic uncovered several biases within our public health systems. One of the most notable was the Availability Bias. Since the US had not experienced a large-scale viral outbreak since 1920, American populations were less likely to see Covid-19 as a major threat. Meanwhile, South Korea has been impacted by novel viruses more recently, so their people took precautionary measures more seriously. 

In the US, the Identifiable Victim Effect also had major implications to public health policy. Public health data is often given on the population level, which can make it difficult for individuals to conceptualize the threat. Early on, people were much more concerned with the availability of ventilators than social distancing and masking. The tragic stories of people unable to find a ventilator were much more immediate given the bias toward individual stories. However, while the availability of ventilators was important, proper mask use and social distancing was much more effective at decreasing the mortality rates.

There will always be personal biases that prevent individuals form engaging in public health actions. However, as public health marketers we must understand these biases to address them. The success of public health policy depends on convincing a wide range of people and overcoming pre-existing thoughts and beliefs in some segments of that population.  

Blog Post

Familiarity in Public Health Messaging

As public health marketers it is our goal to get communities to follow through with policy and guidelines. Too often, public health policy is seen as intrusive and invasive by the communities it is trying to help. Therefore, it is imperative for public health marketers to make new public health policy seem as familiar as possible by likening it to already established norms.

Introducing Initiatives

Introducing new public health initiatives can be difficult for public health marketers. It can be hard for communities to see the value in changes, especially when they change the way they live their lives. For example, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic it was difficult to get western populations to wear a facial covering in public. Regions that were successful in their ‘mask-up’ efforts did so by likening wearing a mask to other safety precautions that we take every day.

Making the Unfamiliar Familiar

In American culture we highly value our independence and personal freedoms and often lose sight of what is best for our collective good. To many people, being told to wear a mask outright was seen as an attack on their personal liberty and bodily autonomy. Conversely, in regions where wearing a mask was likened to established norms like wearing a seat belt in a car or a helmet on a motorcycle, people were more open and willing to wear a facial covering in public. By associating wearing a facial covering with already accepted safety guidelines, public health marketers were able to better convince populations to wear facial coverings and consequently lower their region’s infection rates.

Introducing new public health policy can be an uphill battle, and it is the job of public health marketers to make new policies seem as attractive and beneficial as possible. Likening new policies to those that area already well established and accepted can make this job easier by making people feel more familiar with the changes being made. Connecting new policy to those already accepted by the community will make implementation easier and help communities thrive.