Risk Analysis

Communicating Zika Risk: Using Metaphor to Increase Perceived Risk Susceptibility

Journal Article


Effectively communicating the risks associated with emerging zoonotic diseases remains an important challenge. Drawing on research into the psychological effects of metaphoric framing, we explore the conditions under which exposure to the “nation as a body” metaphor influences perceived risk susceptibility, behavioral intentions, and policy support in the context of Zika virus. In a between‐subjects experiment, 354 U.S. adults were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions as part of a 2 (severity message: high vs. low) × 2 (U.S. framing: metaphoric vs. literal) design. Results revealed an interaction effect such that metaphoric (vs. literal) framing increased perceived risk susceptibility in the high‐severity condition only. Further analyses revealed that perceived risk susceptibility and negative affect mediated the path between the two‐way interaction and policy support and behavioral intentions regarding Zika prevention. Overall, these findings complement prior work on the influence of metaphoric framing on risk perceptions, while offering practical insights for risk communicators seeking to communicate about Zika and other zoonotic diseases.

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