• art, nurse, vaccination

    Vax? No doubt!

Welcome at the Health Communication Working Group!

Prof. Cornelia Betsch is the head of this working group and at the same time professor for health communication at the University of Erfurt.

Learn more about our team and our work at the BNITM here.


  • art, italy, spheres

    Art installation at La Biennale di Venezia 2021

  • Store window installation at La Biennale di Venezia 2021

Understanding human behaviour is the basis of changing it.

Our research addresses the biggest societal challenge we face in the coming decades: the health and social consequences of man-made climate change. The term Planetary Health is used to describe, among other things, the health consequences of human intervention in nature. This includes first and foremost climate change with its effects on health - for example, through the spread of infectious diseases, as we have recently experienced in the corona pandemic. In the future, we will repeatedly see societies having to go into crisis mode to deal with acute threats.

The Corona crisis demonstrated the importance of quickly informing and educating diverse publics around the globe about complex issues. Misinformation had to be debunked, health behaviors had to be promoted through communication and other interventions, such as effective and more or less accepted policy frameworks. Through the Corona crisis, we share a common experience in how intertwined our lives are and how much public health depends on each individual.

The topics of climate protection and infection control are central pillars of our research. In these areas, we investigate internal and external factors and processes that influence our behavior, ways to support informed health behavior, and the effectiveness of different interventions and policy frameworks to change behavior.

Most research that we base our theories on, that we use to understand health behavior and health communication, has been conducted in WEIRD countries (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic). In order to solve global challenges it is of utmost importance to understand the impact of this narrow view by extending research and research methods to more low-resource and other cultural settings. This will be in the center of our work at the BNITM.

Our goal is a better life in a healthier environment. Our research questions have strong roots in practical and real-life challenges. We conduct research with the highest scientific standards and return the results into practice. We place people at the center of our research interest and aim to understand the factors that influence individual and social behavior in order to develop tools that enable a healthy future.

Our goal: Improving planetary and human health with behavioral science.

Research Projects

COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring COSMO

The COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring COSMO is a serial cross-sectional study that aims at regularly supporting the German government and other regulatory bodies to gain insights into public opinion and acceptance of measures and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. It started in March 202 and will run until April 2022.

The fortnightly data collections made it possible to constantly address current topics and thus to draw a psychological profile of the public during the dynamic pandemic situation in Germany. The monitoring is able to show trends in parameters which are relevant for protective behaviour (e.g., trust, risk perception, acceptance of measures). This allowed a quick "live" assessment of the psychological situation. Recommendations derived from the findings are regularly edited as policy briefs and sent to health authorities, ministries, and relevant stakeholders.  

In addition, the survey-based monitoring was supplemented by psychological survey-experiments that could also shed light on causal relationships (e.g., when asked about effective communication on safe behavior after rapid tests; or regarding the perception of mandatory mask policies). Qualitative data from open-ended responses also allowed us to quickly map unknown topics (e.g., which vaccination venues are preferred by the unvaccinated people, what motivates testing behaviors, or what rumors and misinformation are circulating, etc.). This innovative combination of methods-serial cross-section, experiments, and qualitative data-allowed for both exploratory and hypothesis-testing approaches, as well as maximum understanding of the situation within the population.

The COSMO Explorer allows users to interactively view and stratify data that are not explicitly evaluated on the website (e.g. vaccination rate by East and West Germany). The application also allows users to explore various aspects over time (e.g., vaccination readiness), distributions (e.g., proportion of vaccination opponents in the total sample), and correlations (e.g., between vaccination readiness and trust in government). The Explorer can be accessed here: projekte.uni-erfurt.de/cosmo2020/web/explorer/

COSMO is a joint project of the University of Erfurt, the Robert Koch Institute, the Federal Center for Health Education, the Leibniz Institute of Psychology, the Science Media Center, the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, and the Yale Institute for Global Health.

Website (in German): www.corona-monitor.de

Publications from the project: https://projekte.uni-erfurt.de/cosmo2020/web/publications/


Health Games

Overcoming the social dilemma in vaccination decisions and the consumption of antibiotics

Scientific approaches often describe preventive and curative health decisions as individual decision-making tasks, where individuals weigh their own costs and benefits. However, some health decisions do not only affect the individual decision-maker, but also have direct or indirect effects on others.

The classical perspective ignores potential positive or negative effects on others (externalities) as mechanisms and potential incentives in health decisions. Vaccinations, for instance, often have positive externalities because every vaccination reduces the transmission of a disease and thus indirectly protects unvaccinated individuals. Antibiotic use, in contrast, is an example for negative externalities, because excessive and inappropriate use leads to drug resistance and can harm uninvolved others if antibiotics are no longer effective. As a result, health decisions become social interactions when the decisions of several individuals and their health consequences influence each other, and individual interests have to be weighed up against collective interests.

In a preceding project we systematically analyzed vaccination decisions as social interactions at the behavioral level. The three work packages of this follow-up project directly build upon the established research method of analyzing social-interactive health decisions through interactive decision tasks (Health Games). It has been repeatedly shown that interventions stressing prosocial aspects of vaccinations are helpful in increasing the willingness to vaccinate. Work package WP1 therefore critically examines this finding with regard to mediators as well as facilitating and attenuating moderators.

Furthermore, previous studies showed that integrating vaccine effectiveness into the vaccination decision leads to a cognitive bias ("Vaccine Effectiveness Fallacy"). When vaccines are less effective, individuals are less willing to vaccinate. Theoretical models, however, suggest that this is incorrect from a normative perspective since with decreasing effectiveness the indirect protection also decreases. Therefore, WP2 identifies and evaluates different debiasing strategies.

WP3 applies our research approach to antibiotic use in order to examine its determinants. These insights will facilitate the future development of strategies to reduce excessive and inappropriate antibiotic use. For this purpose, we developed a novel interactive decision task that models the social-interactive mechanisms in the development of antibiotic resistance.

Based on these interdisciplinary research methods, this project extends theoretical models of health decision dilemmas, taking into account that behavioral predictions can vary depending on whether externalities of the individual decision are considered or not. The results of this project will increase our understanding and the development of evidence-based interventions to overcome vaccine hesitancy and antibiotic overuse.

This is a collaboration with Prof. Dr. Robert Böhm, University of Vienna.

See also website DFG Gepris Database

La Biennale di Venezia 2021

Other projects

Find other projects led by Cornelia Betsch and her University of Erfurt team here.

Publication Highlights


Empirical evidence to understand the human factor for effective rapid testing against SARS-CoV-2
Betsch, C., Sprengholz, P., Siegers, R., Eitze, S., Korn, L., Goldhahn, L., ... & Jenny, M. A.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(32). doi: 10.1073/pnas.2107179118


Social and behavioral consequences of mask policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Betsch, C., Korn, L., Sprengholz, P., Felgendreff, L., Eitze, S., Schmid, P., & Böhm, R.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(36), 21851-21853. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2011674117

Vaccination as a social contract
Korn, L., Böhm, R., Meier, N.W., Betsch, C.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(26), 14890-14899. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1919666117

Ten considerations for effectively managing the COVID-19 transition
Habersaat, K., Betsch, C., …, & Butler, R.
Nature Human Behaviour, 4, 677–687. doi: 10.1038/s41562-020-0906-x

Rapid, flexible, cost-effective monitoring tool for behavioural insights related to COVID-19 across countries
Betsch, C., Wieler, L.H., Habersaat, K. and the COSMO group
The Lancet, 395(10232), P1255-1256. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30729-7


Mandate vaccination with care
Omer, S. B., Betsch, C., & Leask, J.
Nature, 571(7766), 469-472. doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02232-0

Effective strategies for rebutting science denialism in public discussions
Schmid, P. & Betsch, C.
Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 931–939. doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0632-4


On the benefits of explaining herd immunity in vaccine advocacy
Betsch, C., Böhm, R., Korn, L., & Holtmann, C.
Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 0056. doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0056

All Publications

Find a list of all publications on our Erfurt Website here


  • Leibniz Professur Best Minds (P106/2020), “Behavioural Insights Research Center on Preventive Health”, Leibniz Association (with Bernhard Nocht Insitute, Hamburg), 1.000.000 €
  • Heisenberg-Professur (BE 3970/12-1) „Behavioral Insights to improve evidence-informed health communication – the example of vaccine hesitancy and prudent use of antibiotics”, German Research Foundation (DFG), ca. 500.000 € (second phase of approval)
  • COVID-19 Sanpshot Monitoring COSMO was funded by: Robert Koch Institute, Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung, Thüringer Ministeriums Arbeit, Soziales, Gesundheit, Frauen und Familie, Thüringer Ministerium für Bildung, Jugend und Sport, Staatskanzlei Thüringen, Leibniz Zentrum für Psychologie, Klaus-Tschira-Stiftung, Bernhard Nocht Institute, University of Erfurt.
  • DFG Project (BE 3970/8-2) “Health Games”, German Research Foundation (DFG),; „Health Games – Overcoming the social dilemma in vaccination decisions and antibiotic use”, ca. 340.000 € plus 220.000 € for Robert Böhm, RWTH Aachen University, University of Vienna

Find other projects led by Cornelia Betsch and her University of Erfurt team here

Open Science

The Health Communication Working Group is committed to Open Science

We are committed to Open Science and a member of the Erfurt Open Science Initiative. We embrace the values of openness and transparency in science by applying Open Science practices in our research, teaching, support of young researchers and interactions with our institutions.

Cornelia Betsch, Lars Korn


Prof. Dr. Cornelia Betsch

Phone: +49 40 42818-714
E-Mail: cornelia.betsch@bnitm.de

Scientific Staff

Dr. Lars Korn +49 40 42818-708
Dr. med. Parichehr Shamsrizi

Associated researchers

Dr. Mirjam Jenny
Dr. Philipp Schmid
Sarah Eitze, M.Sc.
Philipp Sprengholz, M.Sc.
Lisa Felgendreff, M.Sc.
Frederike Taubert, M.Sc.
Dorothee Heinemeier, M.Sc.
Leonie Otten, M.A.
Gbadebo Collins Adeyanju, M.P.P.

Student assistants

Maxine Pepper, B.Sc.
Lisa Petersen, M.A.
Hellen Temme, B.Sc.
Christopher Jäger, M.Sc.