Shawn Meghan Burn
Bystander intervention is a form of helping that occurs when onlookers intercede to provide direct or indirect aid to a victim. When bystanders step in to prevent or reduce harm to others, they act as agents of primary and secondary health prevention. But theory and research suggest the bystander intervention process is complex and multiple social-psychological and situational barriers imperil bystander action. Bystanders are often ill-prepared to intervene when others are at risk for emotional or physical harm. They may not notice that someone needs help due to distraction from self-focus, engagement in social interaction, intoxication, or aspects of the situation like crowding or noise. Due to inadequate knowledge, bystanders may misdiagnose the situation and believe intervention is unnecessary. The negative consequences of nonintervention may be unknown to them such that the situation fails to increase their empathic arousal and motivate their action. Lacking knowledge, they may not recognize the seriousness of the situation and or the potential costs of inaction, and so are insufficiently alarmed. Pluralistic ignorance can arise when multiple uncertain bystanders conceal their concern and hesitate to act, assuming others’ inaction means intervention is inappropriate or unnecessary. When there are multiple witnesses, bystanders may assume their help is unneeded, place intervention responsibility on others, or feel less responsible for helping due to diffusion of responsibility. When the victim is not a member of their in-group, or is assumed at fault for their predicament, they may feel less empathy and a reduced responsibility to help. Or, bystanders may assign responsibility for intervention to the victim’s friends or fellow in-group members, or to those “in charge” of the setting. Even when bystanders realize help is needed and take responsibility for helping, they may not act if they do not know how or lack confidence in their ability to successfully carry out the actions required to help. When they have the skills, they may not help if they perceive the costs of action to outweigh the benefits of action. Audience inhibition arising from group norms supporting inaction and from bystander worry about what others will think about them if they act unnecessarily or ineptly can prevent bystander action by increasing bystanders’ perceived helping costs.
Recognition of bystanders as a potentially valuable public health asset has increased interest in promoting bystander intervention. Bystander intervention promotion and communications empower bystander action by combating intervention- and audience-specific barriers to bystander intervention using targeted information, communications, and skills training. Theory and research suggest that effective promotions and communications foster context-specific attitudes, beliefs, norms, and skills such that bystanders: (1) are able to quickly and accurately identify a situation as intervention-appropriate; (2) experience action-motivating arousal (including empathy) in the face of the event; (3) have positive attitudes towards intervention and perceive the benefits of action as outweighing the perceived costs; (4) are empowered to act and feel confident in their ability to effectively intervene (bystander efficacy); and (5) are resistant to evaluation apprehension and norms contraindicating action. Effective bystander intervention promotion draws on social psychology and communications studies, and best practices for health promotion and prevention programs. The application of social marketing and formative and summative program evaluation methods enhance the potential of bystander intervention promotions and communications to empower bystander action.
Roxanne L. Parrott, Amber K. Worthington, Rachel A. Smith, and Amy E. Chadwick
The public, including lay members who have no personal or familial experience with genetic testing or diagnosis, as well as individuals who have had such experiences, face many intrinsic decisions relating to understanding genetics. With the sequencing of the human genome and genetic science discoveries relating genes to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, the scope of such decisions broadened from prenatal genetic testing related to reproductive choices to genetic testing for contributors to common causes of morbidity and mortality. The decision about whether to seek genetic testing encompasses concerns about stigma and discrimination. These issues lead some who can afford the cost to seek screening through online direct-to-consumer sites rather than in clinical settings. Many who may benefit from genetic testing lack awareness of family health history that could guide physicians to recommend these diagnostic tests. Families may not discuss health history due to genetic illiteracy, with the public’s genetic illiteracy increasing their illness uncertainty and decreasing the likelihood that physicians will engage in conversations about personalized medicine with their patients. Physicians may nonetheless order genetic tests based on patients’ symptoms, during preoperative workups, or as part of opportunistic screening and assessment associated with a specific genetic workup. Family members who receive positive genetic test results may not disclose them to life partners, other family members, or insurance companies based on worries and anxiety related to their own identity, as well as a lack of understanding about their family members’ risk probability. For many, misguided beliefs that genes absolutely determine health and disease status arise from media translations of genetic science. These essentialist beliefs negatively relate to personal actions to limit genetic expression, including failure to seek medical care, while contributing to stereotypes and stigma communication. As medical science continues to reveal roles for genes in health across a broad spectrum, communicating about the relationships that genes have for health will be increasingly complex. Policy associated with registering, monitoring, and controlling the activities of those with genetic mutations may be coercive and target individuals unable to access health care or technology. Communicating about genes, health, and risk will thus challenge health communicators throughout the 21st century.
A community of practice (CoP) situated in a health and risk context is an approach to collaboration among members that promotes learning and development. In a CoP, individuals come together virtually or physically and coalesce around a common purpose. CoPs are defined by knowledge, rather than task, and encourage novices and experienced practitioners to work together to co-create and embed sustainable outputs that impact on theory and practice development. As a result, CoPs provide an innovative approach to incorporating evidence-based research associated with health and risk into systems and organizations aligned with public well-being.
CoPs provide a framework for constructing authentic and collaborative learning. Jeanne Lave and Etienne Wenger are credited with the original description of a CoP as an approach to learning that encompasses elements of identity, situation, and active participation. CoPs blend a constructivist view of learning, where meaningful experience is set in the context of “self” and the relationship of “self” with the wider professional community. The result is an integrated approach to learning and development achieved through a combination of social engagement and collaborative working in an authentic practice environment. CoPs therefore provide a strategic approach to acknowledging cultural differences related to translating health and risk theory into practice.
In health and risk settings, CoPs situate and blend theory and practice to create a portal for practitioners to generate, shape, test, and evaluate new ideas and innovations. Membership of a CoP supports the development of professional identity within a wider professional sphere and may support community members to attain long range goals.
Irina Iles and Xiaoli Nan
Counterfactual thinking is the process of mentally undoing the outcome of an event by imagining alternate antecedent states. For example, one might think that if they had given up smoking earlier, their health would be better. Counterfactuals are more frequent following negative events than positive events. Counterfactuals have both aversive and beneficial consequences for the individual. On the one hand, individuals who engage in counterfactual thinking experience negative affect and are prone to biased judgment and decision making. On the other hand, counterfactuals serve a preparative function, and they help people reach their goals in the future by suggesting effective behavioral alternatives.
Counterfactual thoughts have been found to influence an array of cognitive processes. Engaging in counterfactual thinking motivates careful, in-depth information processing, increases perceptions of self-efficacy and control, influences attitudes toward social matters, with consequences for behavioral intentions and subsequent behaviors. Although it is a heavily studied matter in some domains of the social sciences (e.g., psychology, political sciences, decision making), counterfactual thinking has received less attention in the communication discipline. Findings from the few studies conducted in communication suggest that counterfactual thinking is a promising message design strategy in risk and health contexts. Still, research in this area is critically needed, and it represents an opportunity to expand our knowledge.
Mohan Jyoti Dutta
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Health and risk are constituted globally amid structures of unequal flow of labor, capital, commodities, and communication, shaped by the material inequalities in the distribution of resources. Globalization—the accelerated flow of goods, people, services, and capital across spaces—has been accompanied by large inequalities in economic access to resources; inequalities in access to health opportunities, health resources, and health care services; and inequalities in health outcomes (reflected in mortality and morbidity rates). Disparities in health outcomes observed within and across nation states are shaped by economic inequalities, noting the structural determinants of health, the inequities in access to health services, as well as the local-national-global policies that constitute health. Drawing upon the foundations in postcolonial and Subaltern Studies theories, the culture-centered approach (CCA) examines the communicative processes by which marginalization takes place in global contexts and the ways in which health risks and vulnerabilities are constituted amid material inequalities in distributions of resources.
With an emphasis on the processes of erasure of diverse voices, the CCA asks the question: What are the processes, strategies, and tactics through which the voices of subaltern communities are erased? The access to communicative spaces, platforms, strategies, and tools is shaped within material structures, thus shaping messages, processes, and discourses within the agendas of powerful political, social, and economic actors with economic access to resources. The disenfranchised, with limited access to the communicative spaces and to the spheres of voicing, are often absent from the discursive spaces where health policies and programs are discussed, the sites where interventions are planned, and the processes where communicative strategies targeting them are carried out. The agency of the subaltern is erased from the sites of recognition and representation where policies are debated, decided upon, implemented, and evaluated.
Connecting communication to materiality, the CCA suggests that erasure of the subaltern sectors of the globe is tied to their material disenfranchisement. Materially disenfranchised communities are missing from the policy platforms that target them through a wide variety of interventions. To understand the unequal distribution of health resources and opportunities, we need to closely examine the inequality in opportunities for having a voice and for participating in decision-making structures and processes. Putting forth the argument that inequalities in health outcomes need to be situated amid economic structures that determine how health resources will be distributed and the ways in which these mechanisms will be discussed and determined, the CCA foregrounds strategies for listening to voices that have hitherto been erased. Through strategies of listening, locally grounded understandings are placed within the discursive spaces of policy formulation and program development. In understanding the health experiences of communities that experience poor health outcomes, the emphasis is on creating spaces for listening that foreground local experiences, interpretations, and understanding. Alternative imaginations of the political economy of health are rooted in the voices of local communities at the margins, foregrounding contextually embedded interpretive frames for organizing health, healing, and curing.
Communication is understood in relationship to materiality, acknowledging the interplays between the symbolic and the material in generating health risks and vulnerabilities, and further suggesting strategies of resistance and participation that seek to invert these inequities by foregrounding subaltern rationalities of health and wellbeing. The presence of subaltern voices brings forth alternative imaginations of health, offering new theoretical frameworks that point toward alternative ways of structuring health, economics, and politics. Attending to differentials in distributions of material and communicative infrastructures, the CCA resists the marginalization of the subaltern sectors through the foregrounding of opportunities for local grassroots participation, in the definition of problem configurations and in the corresponding articulations of locally meaningful solutions. The presence of subaltern voices in discursive spaces offers alternative logics of political and economic organizing that challenge the commoditization of health as private property and suggests ideas of health rooted in community life, sustainable practices, and cooperative economies. Local interpretations of health are foregrounded, situated in relationship to the structures within which these meanings are constituted and fostering openings for imagining new structures of health grounded in local understandings. These local understandings offer entry points of solidarity for re-envisioning global practices that challenge the hegemony of neoliberalism as a universal solution to health and development.
The design and dissemination of health and risk messages invariably involves moral and ethical issues. The choice of the topics, the focus on particular recommended practices, the choice of particular groups to be the intended recipients of the messages and their inclusion in or exclusion from the message development process, all raise ethical issues. Further, the persuasive tactics used to influence people to change their attitudes and beliefs and to adopt recommended changes in their lives also raise ethical concerns. For example, persuasive tactics may infringe on people’s privacy when people view images they may find intrusive, offensive, or cause them distress. Tactics that “tug” at people’s emotions may infringe on their unhindered ability to make a conscientious decision. Employing digital media and sophisticated advertising and marketing tactics also elicits ethical challenges both related to their manipulative potential and their differential reach: all of which may contribute to social and health disparities. In addition, the practices recommended in health and risk messages may conflict with values people cherish. For example, people could be urged to change the way they communicate with their spouses on intimate issues, relinquish the consumption of favorite traditional foods—or messages may raise issues that recipients find taboo according to their culture or religious beliefs. Health and risk messages may have unforeseen and unintended adverse effects that could affect people’s emotional and physical aspects by inadvertently contributing to people’s sense of guilt through shaming or stigmatization. Also, on the cultural and social level, such messages may contribute to an idealization of a certain lifestyle or commercialization of products and celebrities associated with the messages.
Philosophical and ethical frameworks typically used in communication ethics, bioethics, communication campaigns, and social marketing literature emphasize the central guiding principles of personal autonomy and privacy with the aim to ensure equity and fairness. The obligation to avoid “doing harm” includes concerns regarding labeling, stigmatizing, and depriving; the obligation to help; the obligation to respect people’s autonomy to make free choices, particularly concerns regarding persuasion tactics and manipulations and the use of threat tactics, provocative appeals, distressing images, framing tactics, cultural sensitivity, and moral relativism; the obligation to obtain consent; the obligation to truthfulness; the obligation to sincerity; the obligation to correctness, certitude, and reliability; the issue of personal responsibility; equity obligations including concerns regarding segmentation and “targeting”; the obligation to comprehensibility; the obligation of inclusion; utility and efficiency considerations; the “harm reduction” approach; and concerns regarding social value priorities and “distortions,” which includes prosocial values as moral appeals.
E. Michele Ramsey
Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group.
Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females.
While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country.
The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.
Kevin Real and Andy Pilny
Effective communication in health care teams is central to the delivery of high-quality, safe, dependable, and efficient patient care. Understanding how health care team communication operates within healthcare systems is important. Viewing health care teams in hospital settings as creators and channels for diffusions of health and risk messages is an important contribution to health communication scholarship. Health care teams are essential elements of healthcare systems. In many instances, they are components of multiteam systems embedded within larger network ecosystems. These teams are not identical, thus, considering how team type (e.g., unidisciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary) shapes distinct communication processes offers a better understanding of how these teams facilitate health and risk message diffusion. TeamSTEPPS is an important framework for essential teamwork behaviors that facilitate team processes in healthcare systems. Significantly, we develop specific communication competencies drawn from observation work that facilitate health care team effectiveness. Ideas developed by Kurt Lewin are utilized to consider how different types of multiteam systems can be effective as channels and facilitators of health and risk messages. We end the chapter with examples from field research. A set of hospital nursing unidisciplinary teams comprise a network of teams that form a heterarchical structure with important messages flowing between teams. An innovative form of hospital interdisciplinary rounds relies on specific communication practices to create and exchange health and risk messages to patients, families, health care team members, and other healthcare stakeholders.
Dennis Myers, Terry A. Wolfer, and Maria L. Hogan
A complex web of attitudinal, cultural, economic, and structural variables condition the decision to respond to communications promoting healthy behavior and participation in risk reduction initiatives. A wide array of governmental, corporate, and voluntary sector health-related organizations focus on effective messaging and health care options, increasing the likelihood of choices that generate and sustain wellness. Researchers also recognize the significant and multifaceted ways that religious congregations contribute to awareness and adoption of health-promoting behaviors. These religiously based organizations are credible disseminators of health education information and accessible providers of venues that facilitate wellness among congregants and community members. The religious beliefs, spirituality, and faith practices at the core of congregational cultural life explain the trustworthiness of their messaging, the health of their adherents, and the intention of their care provision.
Considerable inquiry into the impact of religion and spirituality on health reveals substantive correlations with positive psychological factors known to sustain physical and psychological health—optimism, meaning and purpose, hope, well-being, self-esteem, gratefulness, social support, and marital stability. However, the beliefs and practices that create receptivity to health-related communications, care practices, and service provision can also be a deterrent to message impact and participation in healthy behaviors. When a productive relationship between spirituality and health exists, congregational membership offers rituals (e.g., worship, education, mission) and relationships that promote spiritual well-being. Research demonstrates increased life satisfaction and meaning in life, with health risk reduction associated with a sense of belonging, enriched social interactions, and shared experiences.
Congregations communicate their commitment to wellness of congregants and community members alike through offering a variety of congregationally based and collaborative wellness and risk reduction programs. These expressions of investment in individual and community health range across all age, gender, and ethnic demographics and address most of the prominent diagnostic categories. These programs are ordered along three dimensions: primary prevention (health care messaging and education), secondary prevention (risk education), and tertiary prevention (treatment). Applying the dimensions of sponsorship, goal/mission, focus, services, staffing, and intended outcome highlights the similarities and differences among them. Several unique facets of congregational life energize the effectiveness of these programs. Inherent trust and credibility empower adherence, and participation decisions and financial investment provide service availability. These assets serve as attractive contributions in collaborations among congregations and between private and public health care providers.
Current research has not yet documented the best practices associated with program viability. However, practice wisdom in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of congregationally based and collaborative health-related programs suggests guidelines for future investigation. Congregational leaders and health care professionals emphasize well-designed needs assessment. Effective congregational health promotion and risk reduction may be linked to the availability and expertise of professionals and volunteers enacting the roles of planner/program developer, facilitator, convener/mediator, care manager/advocate, health educator, and direct health care service provider.
Jon F. Nussbaum and Amber K. Worthington
Health and risk message design theories do not currently incorporate a lifespan view of communication. The lifespan communication perspective can therefore advance theorizing in this area by considering how the fundamental developmental differences that exist within and around individuals of different ages impact the effectiveness of persuasive message strategies. Designing health messages for older adults therefore requires an examination of how theoretical frameworks used in health and risk message design can be adapted to be age sensitive and to effectively target older adults. Additionally, older adults often make health decisions in conjunction with informal caregivers, including their adult children or spouses, and/or formal caregivers. Message design scholars should thus also consider this interdependent influence on health behaviors in older adults. Strategic messages targeting these caregivers can appeal to, for example, a caregiver’s perception of responsibility to care for the older adult. These messages can also be designed to not only promote the older adults’ health but also to alleviate caregiver stress and burden. Importantly, there is an unfounded stereotype that all older adults are alike, and message designers should consider the most beneficial segments of the older adult audience to target.