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Culture and Communication

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Culture is a complex set of values, ideas, attitudes, and symbols that shape behavior. It consists of the language, beliefs, behaviors, objects, and traditions that are characteristic of members who belong to a particular group of people. This may be a religion, an institution, a society, or a nation. Public health communicators need to be aware of the cultural diversity in the populations they serve.  

Culture is among the most complex communication issues to manage during a crisis. Different cultural factors affect communication during a crisis:

  • Languages spoken
  • Risk perception
  • Trusted sources of information
  • Traditional family roles and relationships
  • Rituals for grieving and death
  • Acceptable forms of communication

The more you know about a particular cultural group, the greater the chance your communication will be effective.

There’s little time to acquire detailed cultural knowledge during a crisis. You may need to turn to a cultural agent—a person from that culture—perhaps a leader or respected elder, who can help you understand how a particular culture will view an issue. Be aware that cultures are not always unified. It may be challenging to find a cultural agent who is accepted by all. It is important to build ties to various ethnic and cultural communities before a crisis occurs.

For more resources and information on CERC, please see Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, 2014 Edition or Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Pandemic Influenza, 2007.

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