Inoculating within Character Limits

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Abstract

Communication scholars have long contemplated the possibility of operationalizing inoculation theory via terse messages: succinct formats suitable for social media platforms and SMS/text messaging. The current investigation examined the efficacy of terse inoculation messages, consisting of 280 characters or less, delivered as a single message and in a three-part series over the course of three consecutive days. Results revealed a promising pattern in which a burst of three terse messages delivered inoculative effects. Additionally, this investigation examined the utility of inoculation theory in a novel context: mental health. Experts have declared a mental health crisis among Gen Z college students, as rates of anxiety and depression have increased sharply in recent years, even predating the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the rates at which college students seek mental health services have remained low. Results suggested that messages framed through inoculation theory can be useful in influencing attitudes toward mental health help-seeking among Gen Z audiences.