Communicating about diseases that originate in animals: Lessons from the psychology of inductive reasoning

Tyler Davis, Mark Lacour, Micah Goldwater, Brent Hughes, Molly E. Ireland, Darrell A. Worthy, Nick Gaylord, Jason Van Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Many emerging diseases (diseases that are increasing or likely to increase in prevalence) are zoonotic: that is, transmitted between animals and people. Behavioral science researchers have only begun to examine how health communications influence the public’s response to zoonotic diseases. In this article, we discuss how cognitive research on inductive reasoning—that is, on how people make generalizations from evidence— might be leveraged to craft public health communications that most effectively encourage people to engage in behaviors that limit the spread of zoonotic diseases, including COVID-19. Before describing the relevant research, we present experimental data demonstrating that the way communications describe the animal source of a zoonotic disease can affect how people generalize from the information to infer whether other animals may be susceptible, what their own risks are, and what actions they should take to limit disease transmission. We then propose various strategies that public health communicators can enact to encourage broad or narrow generalization, depending on the target audience and the context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Science and Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020


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