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Sep 30, 2020 Article
How public perceptions of social distancing evolved over a critical time period: communication lessons learnt from the American state of Wisconsin

by Kaiping Chen, Luye Bao, Anqi Shao, Pauline Ho, Shiyu Yang, Christopher D. Wirz, Dominique Brossard, Markus Brauer and Lori DiPrete Brown

Understanding how individuals perceive the barriers and benefits of precautionary actions is key for effective communication about public health crises, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. This study used innovative computational methods to analyze 30,000 open-ended responses from a large-scale survey to track how Wisconsin (U.S.A.) residents' perceptions of the benefits of and barriers to performing social distancing evolved over a critical time period (March 19th to April 1st, 2020). Initially, the main barrier was practical related, however, individuals later perceived more multifaceted barriers to social distancing. Communication about COVID-19 should be dynamic and evolve to address people's experiences and needs overtime.

Volume 19 • Issue 05 • 2020 • Special Issue: COVID-19 and science communication, Part I, 2020