Understanding persuasive effects of message framing for vaccination uptake in university students (Ref: RDF22/HLS/PSY/RODRIGUES)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Angela Rodrigues, Dr Nicki O'Brien  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The field of health communication tends to centre on analysing the effectiveness of specific information contexts and less on the relationships between message framing, intentions and actual performance of behaviours. Health-related decision-making is not completely rational. Framing effect theory suggests that the way health-related information is presented can affect individuals’ decision-making preferences. Research suggests that messages presenting gains rather than losses are more persuasive in encouraging prevention behaviours. It is unclear whether this is the case for vaccination messages.

Persuading young adults to get vaccinated is critical for the national vaccination programme and is also the key to achieving herd immunity. The following vaccinations are available for young adults: Human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, seasonal influenza, and COVID-19. Despite not formally part of the national vaccination programme, some universities offer flu vaccines for their student communities (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/students/support-and-wellbeing/health-care/vaccinations/get-flu-vaccination).

Research has found low seasonal flu vaccine uptake and low vaccine knowledge among university-aged students). Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency to vaccinate young adults and promote vaccination uptake in this population is particularly pronounced. Recent NHS England figures show that approximately 75% of 18-24 years olds have had one COVID-19 vaccination; and approximately 60% have had two vaccinations. These figures highlight that a proportion of young adults is left unvaccinated. Vaccination of young adults can potentially provide direct protection for the recipients and indirect (herd) protection for the community,

Understanding underlying mechanisms that drive young adults’ preferences for and engagement with vaccination campaigns could inform the design of effective messaging to influence their decision-making processes when communicating during a public health crisis.

This PhD project will appraise existing vaccination campaigns directed at young adults by exploring effective behaviour change strategies and mechanisms of change associated with vaccination uptake (e.g. systematic review). The studentship will aim to develop a suite of health messages aimed at promoting vaccination uptake (such as influenza, COVID-19, HPV, meningitis) using co-design techniques and informed by framing theory (i.e. loss/gain). Due to the non-prescriptive nature of intervention co-design, the content, format and delivery of the suite of health messages is undefined at this stage. However, since young people are ubiquitous consumers and users of digital technologies, it is likely that digital forms of communicating the messages will be acceptable to them. The student will also be expected to conduct experimental and longitudinal studies to examine young adults’ preferences for co-produced vaccination messages (including feasibility and acceptability), the effect of different messages on vaccination intentions, and other psychological mechanisms of action for vaccination uptake (i.e., beliefs, attitudes, threat appraisal).

There will be a strong focus on public involvement throughout, with the inclusion of a reference group of young adults (e.g. Student Union Welfare representatives) to inform and steer project progress and outcomes.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Angela Rodrigues ([Email Address Removed]).

Education (11) Medicine (26) Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Ruddy, E., Moor, J., Idowu, O., Araujo Soares, V., Rodrigues, A., & Birch-Machin, M. The Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on health behaviours of the UK population: a cross-sectional study. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. [Manuscript in preparation].
O’Brien N, Vijaykumar S, Craig M, Land E, Aguilar S, Bedoya X, De la Cruz R, Najera E, Nicolau L (Under Review). A before-after cross-sectional survey of the effect of exposure to GIFs communicating Covid-19 preventive behaviours on behavioural cognitions of Guatemalan adults. Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
O'Brien N, Land E, Vijaykumar S, et al. (2021) Languageless animated gifs to communicate COVID-19 preventive behaviours to adults in Guatemala: Development and evaluation of efficacy. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 28:S11-S12.
Araújo-Soares, V., Hankonen, N., Presseau, J., Rodrigues, A., & Sniehotta, F. F. (2019). Developing behavior change interventions for self-management in chronic illness. European Psychologist, 24(1), 7-25.
Rodrigues, A., Sniehotta, F. F., Birch-Machin, M. A., Olivier, P., & Araújo-Soares, V. (2017). Systematic and iterative development of a smartphone app to promote sun-protection among holidaymakers: design of a prototype and results of usability and acceptability testing. JMIR Research Protocols, 6(6), e112.
O’Brien N, Heaven B, Teal G, Evans E, Cleland C, Moffatt S, Sniehotta FF, White M, Mathers J, Moynihan P (2016). Integrating evidence from systematic reviews, qualitative research, and expert knowledge using co-design techniques to develop a web-based intervention for people in the retirement transition. Journal of Medical Internet Research,18(8):e210; doi: 10.2196/jmir.5790
Rodrigues, A., O'Brien, N., French, D. P., Glidewell, L., & Sniehotta, F. F. (2015). The question–behavior effect: Genuine effect or spurious phenomenon? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials with meta-analyses. Health Psychology, 34(1), 61.

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