Article Text

Effect of prosocial public health messages for population behaviour change in relation to respiratory infections: a systematic review protocol
  1. Aikaterini Grimani1,2,
  2. Chris Bonell1,3,
  3. Susan Michie1,4,
  4. Vivi Antonopoulou1,4,
  5. Michael P Kelly1,5,
  6. Ivo Vlaev1,2
  1. 1NIHR Policy Research Unit in Behavioural Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  3. 3Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  4. 4UCL Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London, UK
  5. 5School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Aikaterini Grimani; aikaterini.grimani{at}


Introduction The COVID-19 pandemic represents a major societal challenge that requires large-scale behaviour change, widespread collective action and cooperation to reduce viral transmission. Existing literature indicates that several messaging approaches may be effective, including emphasising the benefits to the recipient, aligning with the recipient’s moral values and focusing on protecting others. Current research suggests that prosocial public health messages that highlight behaviours linked to societal benefits (eg, protecting ‘each other’), rather than focusing on behaviours that protect oneself (eg, protecting ‘yourself’), may be a more effective method for communicating strategies related to infectious disease. To investigate this we will conduct a systematic review that will identify what messages and behaviour change techniques have the potential to optimise the effect on population behaviour in relation to reducing transmission of respiratory infections.

Methods and analysis A systematic literature search of published and unpublished studies (including grey literature) in electronic databases will be conducted to identify those that meet our inclusion criteria. The search will be run in four electronic databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and Scopus. We will also conduct supplementary searches in databases of ‘grey’ literature such as PsycEXTRA, Social Science Research Network and OSF PREPRINTS, and use the Google Scholar search engine. A systematic approach to searching, screening, reviewing and data extraction will be applied based on Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. Titles, abstracts and full texts for eligibility will be examined independently by researchers. The quality of the included studies will be assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool and the Risk of Bias in Non-randomized Studies-of Interventions tool. Disagreements will be resolved by a consensus procedure.

Ethics and dissemination This protocol has been registered with PROSPERO. No ethical approval is required, as there will be no collection of primary data. The synthesised findings will be disseminated through peer-reviewed publication.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42020198874.

  • COVID-19
  • respiratory infections
  • public health

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  • Contributors AG is the corresponding author and the primary author of the study, conceived the study, contributed to the development of the search strategy, developed the inclusion and exclusion criteria and data extraction criteria and was involved in the conceptualisation of the research questions. CB conceived the study, contributed to the development of the selection criteria and data extraction criteria, was involved in the conceptualisation of the research questions and provided written feedback on the manuscript. SM conceived the study and provided written feedback on the manuscript. VA contributed to the development of the search strategy and provided written feedback on the manuscript. MPK contributed to the development of the selection criteria and data extraction criteria and provided written feedback on the manuscript. IV conceived the study, contributed to the development of the selection criteria and data extraction criteria, was involved in the conceptualisation of the research questions and revised the manuscript critically and contributed to it intellectually. All authors have read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This study/project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (Policy Research Unit in Behavioural Science (project reference PR-PRU-1217-20501)).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.