Culture and Communication

Stylized words,

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 information on CERC visit our website and check out the CERC manual. You can also read previous CERC Corners.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

Page last reviewed: March 24, 2017 (archived document)