The effects of pronouns of address in pandemic-related messages on persuasiveness in Dutch and German students.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed behavioral patterns worldwide and forced society to work collectively against it. Almost daily, new statements are published by politicians and health organizations to inform about preventive guidelines and measures. It is therefore of high importance to formulate those health messages most effectively to secure society’s health. Previous research has shown that language use and more specifically pronoun use seems to affect how people perceive and evaluate pandemic-related messages. Furthermore, there seem to be cultural and generational differences related to language use and perception that have not been explored in a pandemic-related context yet. The main aim of the current study was to investigate to what extent do T vs. V pronouns of address have an effect on the persuasiveness of pandemic-related messages in Dutch and German students. It was hypothesized that the current study will find an effect of pronouns of address on persuasiveness, more specifically that pandemic-related messages will be more persuasive to German students when V pronouns are used, whereas Dutch students will be more persuaded when T pronouns are used. In a web-based experiment, 51 Dutch students (native speakers) and 43 German students (native speakers) evaluated different COVID-19 vaccination campaign posters on persuasiveness that either contained T- or V pronouns of address. The findings showed that German students evaluated the posters overall higher in quality than Dutch students. This suggests that there are cultural differences related to the evaluation of the quality of pandemic-related messages. Health organisations can take this into account to achieve effective pandemic-related communication with different cultures. Future research should therefore study the effect of quality in the context of pandemic-related messages more intensively.
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