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Shawn Meghan Burn
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
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 non-intervention 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 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 to be at fault for their predicament, bystanders 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 might 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 communication 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: (a) Are able to quickly and accurately identify a situation as intervention-appropriate; (b) Experience action-motivating arousal (including empathy) in the face of the event; (c) Have positive attitudes towards intervention and perceive the benefits of action as outweighing the perceived costs; (d) Are empowered to act and feel confident in their ability to effectively intervene (bystander efficacy); and (e) 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.
In an ideal world, people would adopt a positive attitude toward a healthy lifestyle as a result of carefully considering relevant and strong arguments. Attitudes based upon such considerations are believed to be stable and good predictors of related behavior, and less vulnerable to counterattitudinal messages. However, carefully evaluating arguments in such messages is difficult. First, people need to identify what information can serve as an argument and construe the argumentative relation between the information and the advocated claim. Next, they need to assess the extent to which the argument satisfies the criteria for a strong argument. What these criteria are depends on the type of argument at hand: an argument from analogy, for instance, should be evaluated with different criteria than an argument from authority. Argument scrutiny thus entails reconstruction, identification, and evaluation.
The good news is that even though argument scrutiny is a complex task, it seems that people are pretty well equipped to carry it out. Meta-analyses have shown that messages containing strong arguments are more persuasive than those containing weak arguments. In addition, there is evidence that people are sensitive to what extent a specific argument satisfies relevant criteria when evaluating arguments. The bad news is that people may use these skills not so much to make objective evaluations to reach a better decision, but rather to defend the type of behavior that they already feel they want to perform. That is, they use their argument evaluation skills to reason why the arguments in support of the behavior that they favor are stronger than the arguments against that behavior.
Rachel A. Smith
A premise in health promotion and disease prevention is that exposure to and consequences of illness and injury can be minimized through people’s actions. Health campaigns, broadly defined as communication strategies intentionally designed to encourage people to engage in the actions that prevent illness and injury and promote wellbeing, typically try to inspire more than one person to change. No two people are exactly alike with respect to their risk for illness and injury or their reactions to a campaign attempting to lower their risk. These variations between people are important for health messaging. Effective campaigns provide a target audience with the right persuasive strategy to inspire change based on their initial state and psychosocial predictors for change. It is often financially and logistically unreasonable to create campaigns for each individual within a population; it is even unnecessary to the extent to which people exist in similar states and share psychosocial predictors for change. A challenging problem for health campaigns is to define those who need to be reached, and then intelligently group people based on a complex set of variables in order to identify groups with similar needs who will respond similarly to a particular persuasive strategy. The premise of this chapter is that segmentation at its best is a systematic and explicit process of research to make informed decisions about how many audiences to consider, why the audience is doing what they are doing, and how to reach that audience effectively.
The focus of intergroup communication research in the Baltic countries is on interethnic relations. All three countries have Russian-speaking urban minorities whose process of integration with Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian majorities has been extensively studied. During the Soviet era when the Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic countries were formed, they enjoyed majority status and privileges. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a status reversal as Russian speakers become minorities in the newly emerged national states. The integration of once monolingual Russian-speaking communities has been the major social challenge for the Baltic states, particularly for Estonia and Latvia where they constitute about 30% of the population. Besides the Russian-speaking minorities, each of the Baltic countries has also one other significant minority. In Estonia it is Võro, a linguistically closely related group to Estonians; in Latvia it is Latgalians, closely related to Latvians; and in Lithuania, it is the Polish minority. Unlike the Russian-speaking urban minorities of fairly recent origin, the other minorities are largely rural and native in their territories.
The intergroup communication between the majorities and Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic countries has often analyzed by a triadic nexus consisting of the minority, the nationalizing state, and the external homeland (Russia). In recent analyses, the European Union (through its institutions) has often been added as an additional player. The intergroup communication between the majorities and the Russian-speaking communities is strongly affected by conflicting collective memories over 20th-century history. While the titular nations see the Soviet time as occupation, the Russian speakers prefer to see the positive role of the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler and reconstructing the countries’ economy. These differences have resulted in some symbolic violence such as relocation of the Bronze Soldier monument in Estonia and the riots that it provoked. Recent annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the role of the Ukrainian Russian speakers in the secessionist war in the Eastern Ukraine have raised fears that Russia is trying to use its influence over its compatriots in the Baltic countries for similar ends. At the same time, the native minorities of Võro and Latgalians are going through emancipation and have demanded more recognition. This movement is seen by some among the Estonian and Latvian majorities as attempts to weaken the national communities that are already in trouble with integrating the Russian speakers. In Lithuania, some historical disagreements exist also between the Lithuanians and Polish, since the area of their settlement around capital Vilnius used to be part of Poland before World War II. The Baltic setting is particularly interesting for intergroup communication purposes, since the three countries have several historical parallels: the Russian-speaking communities have fairly similar origin, but different size and prominence, as do the titular groups. These differences in the power balance between the majority and minority have been one of the major factors that have motivated different rhetoric by the nationalizing states, which has resulted in noticeably different outcomes in each setting.
Communication research has recently had an influx of groundbreaking findings based on big data. Examples include not only analyses of Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook, but also of search engine and smartphone uses. These can be put together under the label “digital media.” This article reviews some of the main findings of this research, emphasizing how big data findings contribute to existing theories and findings in communication research, which have so far been lacking. To do this, an analytical framework will be developed concerning the sources of digital data and how they relate to the pertinent media. This framework shows how data sources support making statements about the relation between digital media and social change. It is also possible to distinguish between a number of subfields that big data studies contribute to, including political communication, social network analysis, and mobile communication.
One of the major challenges is that most of this research does not fall into the two main traditions in the study of communication, mass and interpersonal communication. This is readily apparent for media like Twitter and Facebook, where messages are often distributed in groups rather than broadcast or shared between only two people. This challenge also applies, for example, to the use of search engines, where the technology can tailor results to particular users or groups (this has been labeled the “filter bubble” effect). The framework is used to locate and integrate big data findings in the landscape of communication research, and thus to provide a guide to this emerging area.
Kory Floyd and Colter D. Ray
Affectionate communication comprises the verbal and nonverbal behaviors people use to express messages of love, appreciation, fondness, and commitment to others in close relationships. Like all interpersonal behaviors, affectionate communication has biological and physiological antecedents, consequences, and correlates, many of which have implications for physical health and wellness. Investigating these factors within a biological framework allows for the adjudication of influences beyond those attributable to the environment. In particular, there are observable genetic and neurological differences between individuals with a highly affectionate disposition and those less prone to communicating affection, suggesting that variance in the tendency to engage in affectionate behavior is not entirely the result of environmental influences such as enculturation, parenting, and media exposure. In addition, the expression of affection is associated with markers of immune system competence and appears to help the body to relax and remain calm. The biological effects of affectionate communication are perhaps most pronounced in situations involving either acute or chronic stress. Specifically, highly affectionate individuals are less likely than others to overreact physiologically to stress-inducing events. Whatever stress reaction they do mount is better regulated than among their less affectionate counterparts. Moreover, highly affectionate individuals—or simply those who receive expressions of affection prior to or immediately following a stressful situation—exhibit faster physiological recovery from their elevated stress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, being deprived of adequate affectionate communication is predictive of multiple physical and psychological detriments, including elevated stress and exacerbated depression, social and relational problems, insecure attachment, susceptibility to diagnosed anxiety and mood disorders, susceptibility to diagnosed secondary immune disorders, chronic pain, and sleep disturbances.
Stephen A. Rains
The widespread diffusion of social media in recent years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for health and risk communication. Blogs and microblogs are specific forms of social media that appear to be particularly important. Blogs are webpages authored by an individual or group in which entries are published in reverse chronological order; microblogs are largely similar, but limited in the total number of characters that may be published per entry. Researchers have begun exploring the use and consequences of blogs and microblogs among individuals coping with illness as well as for health promotion. Much of this work has focused on better understanding people’s motivations for blogging about illness and the content of illness blogs. Coping with the challenges of illness and connecting with others are two primary motivations for authoring an illness blog, and blogs typically address medical issues (e.g., treatment options) and the author’s thoughts and feelings about experiencing illness. Although less prevalent, there is also evidence that illness blogging can be a resource for social support and facilitate coping efforts. Researchers studying the implications of blogs and microblogs for health promotion and risk communication have tended to focus on the use of these technologies by health professionals and for medical surveillance. Medical professionals appear to compose a noteworthy proportion of all health bloggers. Moreover, blogs and microblogs have been shown to serve a range of surveillance functions. In addition to being used to follow illness outbreaks in real-time, blogs and microblogs have offered a means for understanding public perceptions of health and risk-related issues including medical controversies. Taken as whole, contemporary research on health blogs and microblogs underscores the varied and important functions of these forms of social media for health and risk communication.
Davi Johnson Thornton
Communication studies identifies bodies as both objects of communication and producers (or sites) of communication. Communication about bodies—for example, gendered bodies, disabled bodies, obese bodies, and surgically modified bodies—influences bodies at the physical, material level by determining how they are treated in social interactions, in medical settings, and in public institutions. Communication about bodies also forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies fit in particular roles and settings. In addition to analyzing the stakes of communication about bodies, communication studies identifies bodies as communicating forces that cannot be accounted for by standards of reason, meaning, and decorum. Bodies are physical, material, affective beings that communicate because of, not in spite of, their messy, ineffable status. Moreover, communication is an embodied process that involves a range of material supports, including human bodies, technological bodies, and other nonhuman physical and biological bodies. Investigating bodies as communicating forces compels an understanding of communication that is not exclusively rational, meaning-oriented, and nonviolent.
Evan K. Perrault
Due to their sheer scope in trying to reach large sections of a population, and the costs necessary to implement them, evaluation is vital at every stage of the health communication campaign process. No stage is more important than the formative evaluation stage. At the formative stage, campaign designers must determine if a campaign is even necessary, and if so, determine what the campaign’s focus needs to be. Clear, measurable, and realistically attainable objectives need to be a primary output of formative evaluation, as these objectives help to guide the creation of all future campaign efforts. The formative stage also includes pilot testing any messages and strategies with the target audience prior to full-scale implementation. Once the campaign is implemented, process evaluation should be performed to determine if the campaign is being implemented as planned (i.e., fidelity), and also to document the dose of campaign exposure. Identifying problem areas during process evaluation can ensure they get fixed prior to the completion of the campaign. Detailed process evaluation also allows for greater ease in replicating a successful campaign attempt in the future, but additionally can provide potential reasons for why a campaign was not successful. The last stage is outcome evaluation—determining if the objectives of the campaign were achieved. While it is the last stage of campaign evaluation, campaign designers need to ensure they have planned for it in the formative stages. If even just one of these stages of evaluation is minimized in campaign design, or relegated to an after-thought, developers need to realize that the ultimate effectiveness of their campaigns is likely to be minimized as well.
Jessica Gall Myrick
Celebrities are famous individuals, well known by many members of the public, who appear frequently in media content. When celebrities appear in the media alongside another cause, be it selling soap or promoting public health, the message becomes a celebrity appeal. Celebrity appeals are messages where a celebrity advocates for or is implicitly associated with a target behavior. In the context of health and risk-related messages, celebrity appeals can take the form of public service announcements, advertisements for health and risk-related products, or even news coverage of a celebrity’s personal struggles with a health issue or risky behavior.
Research on celebrity appeals overlaps with the marketing literature investigating the effects of celebrity endorsements on product preferences and purchasing behavior. This work on the persuasiveness of celebrity endorsements demonstrates that celebrities can draw attention to a product or idea, but also that many other factors, like involvement, familiarity, source credibility, and endorser gender can moderate how persuasive a celebrity-based appeal is. Additionally, research on celebrity disclosures of illnesses reveal that these de facto awareness campaigns can elicit emotions in audiences and motivate behavior change. However, media coverage of celebrities has also been associated with harmful effects on lay individuals’ wellbeing, suggesting important caveats for message designers who rely on celebrities to garner attention for a cause or to motivate lay individuals to change their own health and risk-related behaviors. The existing empirical evidence on celebrity appeals and additional theoretical perspectives for understanding their potential persuasiveness provides many insights for message designers.