Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, suggested that positive messages are critical to making people adhere to Covid-19 protocols.
Their findings, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, revealed that crafting positive and encouraging messages could potentially increase mask usage amidst the pandemic.
Allison Lazard, associate professor at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said: “As science evolved during the pandemic, it became clear wearing masks was going to be a critical step. But there just isn’t much out there for evidence-based messaging, especially not for what might motivate people to wear face coverings.”
For the study, the researchers made six virtual focus groups with residents in North Carolina to gain a better understanding of when and why they are using face coverings.
Focus group participants reported that they wore face coverings frequently when in public, indoor settings. This includes grocery stores, health care facilities, and religious services, among others. However, they did not wear them when outside and able to practice physical distancing.
Participants also reported forgoing masks while home alone or with household members, as well as in indoor office settings with co-workers.
The study observed that participants were primarily motivated to wear masks to protect and respect the safety of fellow community members, especially family who are at higher risk of complications from the infection.
Focus groups commonly believed that masks were effective and that wearing one was a matter of personal responsibility. The authority of mask mandates and public health guidance also played a motivating role.
Conversely, participants did not use masks in situations where they did not feel their use was necessary, such as around family and trusted friends or colleagues.
The study reported that “these interactions were not perceived as occurring in public. These perceptions are problematic, as cluster infections among family, friends, and colleagues remain a common pattern for Covid-19 transmission.”
Social challenges prevented some from wearing masks or asking others to wear them out of fear of causing offence.
While some cited barriers related to physical challenges and low perception of susceptibility.
The researchers noted in their study that issues related to identities – such as political affiliation, or the perception that masks were “uncool,” “not masculine” or an infringement on individual rights – also created challenges.
According to the study, “even participants who consistently wore face coverings disliked being told what to do.”
In the discussion of potential communication strategies with the focus groups, concise and positive messages about togetherness and unity were more appealing than messages of fear or instructiveness.
Stories that conveyed the personal effects of Covid-19 were particularly impactful, such as accounts from health care workers or those who had lost a loved one to the virus.