George Charbonneau from South West Ontario Veterinary Services, Are We Influenced By Social Cues?

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This research deals with the impact of “social cues” on biosecurity in livestock facilities. The discussion about social cues seems timely as we deal with COVID 19. I have heard people indicate that they intellectually understood that wearing personal protective equipment such as a mask would help reduce the odds of both getting infected as well as transmitting the Covid 19 virus to others if they were an asymptomtic or presymptomatic shedder. Even though we know that the mask is the right option I often hear people say that they did not put on their mask when most people in that particular social interaction were choosing to not wear a mask. This is a real world example of how social cues can influence our decision making and biosecurity compliance.

It is clear that disease outbreaks in livestock industries have economic impacts measured in hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Biosecurity protocols are designed to reduce infection risk. Unfortunately, people don’t always follow the biosecurity protocols. These US researchers wanted to set up a simulation that would demonstrate how social cues could affect cooperation with a biosecurity practice. A simulated swine production facility with a graphical interface was used to test a number of variables. (More video games for social distancing? ) There were 108 participants that went through various scenarios . The participants received compensation when they successfully followed the protocols. The researchers changed up a number of variable that participants experienced.

  • the risk of acquiring an infection was increased or decreased
  • the delivery method of the infection risk information (numerical vs. graphical)
  • the behavior of an automated coworker in the facility. ( social cues)

The researchers found the following

  • Average compliance increased when participants were informed of increasing infection risk from 1% (34% compliance) to 5% (60% compliance) to 15% (89% compliance)
  • Compliance was also much higher when the infection risk message was delivered as a graphical message (73% compliance) vs. as a numeric message (49% compliance)
  • Participants changed their behavior when they observed a simulated worker making a choice to follow or not follow a biosecurity protocol

Take Home Messages:

  • When staff understand that infection risks are high they do appear to be more likely to comply with biosecurity protocols.
  • Having a non-compliant team member can potentially drag the rest of the team down towards their lower level of compliance .
  • One “bad apple” may indeed spoil the bunch.

Ref: Trinity L, Merrill SC, Clark EM, Koliba CJ, Zia A, Bucini G, Smith JM  Effects of Social Cues on Biosecurity Compliance in Livestock Facilities: Evidence From Experimental Simulations.   Front Vet Sci. 2020 Mar 27;7:130. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00130. eCollection 2020.