Urgent Evoke

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outrage vs. hazard -- how scared are you? how scared should you be?

Reading through the Crisis Communication materials, I found the section on managing risk, hazard and outrage just fascinating. There is a very low correlation between how hazardous an outbreak is, and how emotionally concerned people are about it. However, there is a strong correlation between people's "outrage" level and their willingness to take action. This leads to the recommendation that the best way to get people to take smart precautionary measures, is to raise their level of outrage -- of fear, anger or upset -- through strong, attention getting media messages in short urgent sound bites. Conversely, when people are overly frightened, angry or panicked, you should give them plenty of long, boring, detailed expostulations that act as an emotional soporific and leads to them calming down.

Although it sounds manipulative, it also seems credible as an approach. However, it does require the news media to cooperate in the manipulation agenda. That may be somewhat difficult in a real panic situation, where multiple levels of the story collide. "Pandemic Strikes!" operates at one level to raise outrage beneficially, to provoke preventative actions. But the headline "Panic in the Streets" serves to reinforce and increase outrage, just when it needs to be calmly, boringly dissipated. It seems there is a complex level of literacy required to create and manage these messages, and also to receive and act on them in optimal response.

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