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Award Abstract #1460714

RAPID Proposal: Psychological distance, risk perceptions and communication behaviors during the Ebola outbreak

Divn Of Social and Economic Sciences
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Initial Amendment Date: October 29, 2014
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Latest Amendment Date: October 29, 2014
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Award Number: 1460714
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Award Instrument: Standard Grant
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Program Manager: Robert E. O'Connor
SES Divn Of Social and Economic Sciences
SBE Direct For Social, Behav & Economic Scie
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Start Date: November 1, 2014
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End Date: April 30, 2016 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $84,110.00
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Investigator(s): Z. Janet Yang zyang5@buffalo.edu (Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: SUNY at Buffalo
402 Crofts Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-7016 (716)645-2634
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Program Reference Code(s): 001Z, 7914
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Program Element Code(s): 1321


This project assesses the American public's views of the Ebola outbreak and how these views influence their communication behaviors related to the outbreak such as information seeking, information sharing and information processing. The project focuses on the degree to which such views are influenced by the public's perceptions regarding the importance and personal relevance of this issue, as well as their emotional responses to the outbreak and whether they perceive this issue as psychologically distant and abstract. The research involves a survey, based on a nationally representative sample of 1,000 participants, who are randomly assigned to two experimental conditions (one emphasizing that there are no known cases or Ebola transmission in the United States, and the other that avoids this fact). The use of this experimental survey design provides a unique capacity to understand why one third of the U.S. adults (measured in a September 2014 survey) are concerned that there will be a large Ebola outbreak in the U.S. The participants in the surveys are being drawn from an academic-quality, probability-based online panel.

In addition to the issue-specific value of knowing more about risk perceptions related to the Ebola outbreak, findings from this project will inform the design of communication messages related to risk issues that are often perceived to be psychologically distant by the American public, such as climate change and overpopulation. The specific mechanisms through which the study variables influence risk communication behaviors will also inform communication campaigns aimed at encouraging greater public engagement with risk information. In doing so, the proposed research will integrate theory from social psychology and risk communication to explore the utility of psychological distance in informing public communication about emerging public health risks.


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Yang, Z. J.. "Altruism during Ebola: Risk perception, issue salience, cultural cognition, and information processing," Risk Analysis, 2015.


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