Faculty News

Exploring the Psychology of Following and Ignoring Public Health Guidelines

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Allison Earl, associate professor of psychology, explores the reasons why some people follow public health guidelines but others choose to ignore them.

Earl believes that American culture is individualistic, and that one of the main reasons people ignore messaging is because it advocates for something people don’t believe to be true or don’t want to do.

“People ignore messages that challenge what they are already doing. Especially in the context of COVID-19, which is an infectious disease, we have to think about individuals as being nested in communities,” Earl says. “They are more likely to ignore, to counter-argue, to derogate the source of messages that are advocating for a position that they are not interested in taking or have not taken.”

Earl says that if someone is trying to persuade another person who isn’t following public health guidelines, taking a shame-based or fear-based approach won’t be effective.

“If we want people to engage in a behavior long term, changing their attitudes about why they should be engaging in a behavior and helping them understand the cost and benefits associated with the behavior is going to be a much more successful strategy than using these moral or emotion-based appeals,” she says.

Earl discusses the importance of designing public health messaging to meet the audience where they are, rather than imposing messaging that others find compelling. She says understanding why people make the decisions they make and designing messaging to appeal specifically to them is the best strategy.

She also reminds members of the U-M that individual choices have consequences for the people around them as well.

Hear more from Earl in this episode of Michigan Minds