Giese, H., Neth, H., Gaissmaier, W. (2021). Determinants of information diffusion in online communication on vaccination: The benefits of visual displays. Vaccine. Elsevier. 39 (43), 6407-6413. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2021.09.016

Social media are an increasingly important source of information on the benefits and risks of vaccinations, but the high prevalence of misinformation provides challenges for informed vaccination decisions. It is therefore important to understand which messages are likely to diffuse online and why, and how relevant aspects—such as scientific facts on vaccination effectiveness—can be made more comprehensible and more likely to be shared. In two studies, we (i) explore which characteristics of messages on flu vaccination facilitate their diffusion in online communication, and (ii) whether visual displays (i.e., icon arrays) facilitate the comprehension and diffusion of scientific effectiveness information.

In Study 1, 208 participants each rated a random sample of 15 out of 63 messages on comprehensibility, trustworthiness, persuasiveness, familiarity, informativeness, valence, and arousal, and then reported which information they would share with subsequent study participants. In Study 2 (N = 758), we employed the same rating procedure for a selected set of 9 messages and experimentally manipulated how scientific effectiveness information was displayed.

Study 1 illustrated that scientific effectiveness information was difficult to understand and thus did not diffuse well. Study 2 demonstrated that visual displays improved the understanding of this information, which could, in turn, increase its social impact.

The comprehensibility of scientific information is an important prerequisite for its diffusion. Visual displays can facilitate informed vaccination decisions by rendering important information on vaccination effectiveness more transparent and increasing the willingness to share this information.