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Dynamic public perceptions of emerging infectious diseases: A longitudinal study of avian flu
Responsable du projet Adrian Bangerter
   
Partenaire Alain Clémence
Eva G. T. Green
   
Résumé Emerging infectious diseases have been identified by scientific and political authorities as a major threat to human survival. Such diseases include AIDS, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and avian flu, but also exotic diseases like Ebola virus, as well as re-emerging diseases like tuberculosis. Massive and coordinated research and policy efforts have been deployed to understand biological aspects of these diseases. However, successfully containing them and limiting their impact on humans also requires scientific knowledge about how the public understands and reacts to the threat they pose. There is much less research on these issues.
The planned research focuses on the case of avian flu, which has recently emerged in the public sphere as an acute threat. The risk of a pandemic (= sustained global epidemic) is now greater than ever. Thus, avian flu constitutes a timely natural case study to investigate
the development of public knowledge and reactions to the threat of emerging infectious disease. We adopt a social psychological perspective based on social representations research to study public knowledge of avian flu, its determinants, its variation, and its behavioral consequences. Integrating previous survey, qualitative and experimental research on perceptions of disease, threat, and intergroup relations with social representations theory, we seek to answer four research questions. First, how is public knowledge about
avian flu organized? Second, how does knowledge vary according to sociodemographic background and existing cultural belief systems? Third, how does knowledge affect relevant behavior (e.g., protection measures, consumer behavior, allocation of resources like medication, avoidance of outgroups)? An important focus is on how intergroup relations in general are affected by public knowledge about diseases. Fourth, how do relevant phenomena vary over time, in other words, how do knowledge and behavioral reactions evolve as a function of varying threat levels? This last question is particularly important, because emerging infectious diseases are, by definition, new to the public. Thus, knowledge may develop and change over time (as in the case of AIDS, for example).
We explore these issues in ongoing research. We have constructed a questionnaire measuring variables related to the research questions and initiated a longitudinal study of the evolution of these variables, using the student population of French-speaking Swiss
universities. There are currently three waves in the data set. The first wave (n = 520) was collected in December 2005, just after avian flu emerged as a major issue in the media. The second wave was collected six months later, in June 2006. This wave comprised 110 participants from the first wave as well as 242 new participants. The third wave was collected in June 2007. It comprised 90 participants from the first two waves as well as 299 new participants. We apply for 24 months of funding beginning October 1, 2008. We plan to conduct a longitudinal survey comprising two waves of data (n = 600 for each wave) from a sample of the general population. At each wave, we will also interview selected participants from the survey study (n = 30 each time). The interviews will yield complementary qualitative data on how public knowledge about avian flu is organized. The completed study will yield valuable data on the evolution of the Swiss public's knowledge about avian flu over several years. To our awareness, it will constitute a unique resource that can lead to new insights about how the public understands and reacts to disease-related threats in general. The data have the potential to contribute to existing
theory in social psychology. Furthermore, valuable implications for public health issues (e.g., the design of disease prevention campaigns) may result from this research. We plan to seek publication of results in international peer-reviewed scientific journals in the fields of social psychology and public health. Furthermore, the results of the study will be made available to interested organizations in public health, to the general public and to the media.
   
Mots-clés Social representations, emerging infectious diseases
   
Type de projet Recherche fondamentale
Domaine de recherche Psychologie
Source de financement FNS
Etat Terminé
Début de projet 1-1-2009
Fin du projet 31-3-2011
Budget alloué 205'388
Contact Adrian Bangerter