Posting those rapid test results online can help normalize the habit, experts say

Click to play video: 'Posting rapid test results online can help normalize the habit, experts say'
Posting rapid test results online can help normalize the habit, experts say
WATCH: Rapid test kits have been flying off the shelves in Saskatchewan and one psychologist credits social media for helping get the word out – Jan 6, 2022

You likely saw a post like the one below more than once over the holiday season – a friend, family member or someone else you follow on social media sharing the results of their rapid tests.

And, whether the motivation is cynical or altruistic, one psychologist says the trend can go a long way towards normalizing the process health officials have touted as an important tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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“You are conveying that you can contract the virus, which can carry a bit of a stigma, which I think speaks to why it’s so beneficial to be doing this,” said University of British Columbia Associate Professor of Psychology Azim Shariff.

“It does de-stigmatize the communication of your virulence to others, which I think is a positive thing.”

Shariff says that, similar to when people posted pictures of their vaccination stickers when that campaign debuted, social learning theory is at play.

“A non-cynical interpretation is that people are motivated by virtuous processes – it’s the right thing to do and they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” Shariff said.

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“Even if people are motivated to virtue signal to show that they themselves are virtuous, the byproduct – which is a very positive byproduct – is that it communicates to the community what actually is virtuous. In this case that you’re being responsible, testing and isolating.”

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Jane Caulfield, a lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edward’s School of Business, also drew a comparison to the vaccination campaign and its stickers.

“We are all consumers and we make consumption choices when we pick what we want to listen to, eat and buy, and often those choices are influenced by the groups we associate ourselves with,” she said.

“That’s the in-group we want to be a part of and the out-group we don’t want to be a part of. So having the stickers or your rapid test and posting it on social media is a way of signaling to other people ‘I believe in this stuff’ and it allows people who want to be part of that in-group to be a part of that interaction.”

Caulfield says it’s especially valuable when people publish photos showing positive test results.

“They’re really demonstrating that they’re part of that in-group and helps consumers make choices,” she said. “And it’s not an organization pushing that. It’s people doing what they are proud of and showing that which creates an in-group on its own without it coming from some authority. The sticker and the rapid test trends really did happen from the consumer, from the people.”

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Both Shariff and Caulfield caution that posting these photos online could have the opposite effect as well.

“The downside could be that it makes people feel ostracized, or on the outside, but from a marketing perspective, they may not be your target market. So the act of sharing that information isn’t talking to people who are ultimately willing to use the rapid tests to begin with.”

Shariff adds, though, that the benefits of normalizing healthy pandemic habits and reducing stigma is an overall positive.

“I suspect there may be a contingent of people they disagree with and don’t like positing their tests and they’re going to roll their eyes. There’s also the effect that it could diminish how seriously people take the virus if they say ‘so may people have this so it’s not a big deal,'” he said.

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“There are a couple of danger zones but by and large because of the social learning effect, because of the way it destigmatizes and normalizes not only getting tested but showing others that you have the virus, I think it’s a good thing.”

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