Enhancing the Effectiveness of Contact Tracing Interviews Using Psychological Science

Contact tracing is vital to controlling the spread of disease. This process relies on effective recall of past interactions during contact tracing interviews; as such, psychological science suggests that limitations on human memory and cognition could hinder contact tracing efforts. Methods for enhancing memory performance have been widely addressed within the psychological literature. Further, there is evidence that self-administered interviews are an effective way to gather information while conserving person power. The current experiment leveraged the unique conditions of an ongoing pandemic and research on both memory and self-administered interviewing to compare two interviews: an enhanced cognitive protocol based on best practices in investigative interviewing, and a control interview that aligned with current practices for COVID-19 contact tracing interviews. Each protocol was tested via two modalities: an interviewer-led audio-only Zoom call and a self-led online survey. Across 200 interviews with adults throughout the United States, the enhanced protocol increased the number of contacts reported by more than 50% as compared to the control protocol. Modality (i.e., call vs. online survey) had neither a main nor moderating effect on recall. These findings suggest that implementing psychologically-informed interview techniques can significantly increase the number of contacts that infected persons can report. Further, these improvements can be realized in an interviewer-free context, reducing time and resource requirements.
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