Self-affirmation theory posits that people are motivated to maintain an adequate sense of self-integrity. It further posits that the self-system is highly flexible such that threats to one domain of the self can be better endured if the global sense of self-integrity is protected and reinforced by self-resources in other, unrelated domains. Health and risk communication messages are often threatening to the self because they convey information that highlights inadequacies in one’s health attitudes and behaviors. This tends to lead to defensive response, particularly among high-risk groups to whom the messages are typically targeted and most relevant. However, self-affirmation theory suggests that such defensive reactions can be effectively reduced if people are provided with opportunities to reinforce their sense of self-integrity in unrelated domains. This hypothesis has generated substantial research in the past two decades.
Empirical evidence so far has provided relatively consistent support for a positive effect of self-affirmation on message acceptance, intention, and behavior. These findings encourage careful consideration of the theoretical and practical implications of self-affirmation theory in the genesis and reduction of defensive response in health and risk communication. At the same time, important gaps and nuances in the literature should be noted, such as the boundary conditions of the effects of self-affirmation, the lack of clarity in the psychological mechanisms underlying the observed effects, and the fact that self-affirmation can be easily implemented in some health communication contexts, but not in others. Moreover, the research program may also benefit from greater attention to variables and questions of more direct interest to communication researchers, such as the role of varying message attributes and audience characteristics, the potential to integrate self-affirmation theory with health communication theories, and the spontaneous occurrence of positive self-affirmation in natural health communication settings.
Andrea Kloss and Anne Bartsch
Emotions are an important part of how audiences connect with health and risk messages. Feelings such as fear, anger, joy, or empathy are not just byproducts of information processing, but they can interact with an individual’s perception and processing of the message. For example, emotions can attract attention to the message, they can motivate careful processing of the message, and they can foster changes in attitudes and behavior. Sometimes emotions can also have counterproductive effects, such as when message recipients feel pressured and react with anger, counterarguments, or defiance. Thus, emotion and cognition are closely intertwined in individuals’ responses to health messages. Recent research has begun to explore the flow and interaction of different types of emotions in health communication. In particular, positive feelings such as joy and hope have been found to counteract avoidant and defensive responses associated with negative emotions such as fear and anger. In this context, research on health communication has begun to explore complex emotions, such as a combination of fear and hope, which can highlight both the severity of the threat, and individuals’ self-efficacy in addressing it. Empathy, which is characterized by a combination of affection and sadness for the suffering of others, is another example of a complex emotion that can mitigate defensive responses, such as anger and reactance, and can encourage insight and prosocial responses.
Social influence processes play an important role in the recovery process for alcoholics who affiliate with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Group norms at AA emphasize the sharing of stories about past difficulties with alcohol, the circumstances that led a person to join AA, and how life has changed since achieving sobriety. These narratives serve to increase collective identity among AA members via shared experiences and to reinforce AA ideology. In discussions and interpersonal interactions at AA meetings, AA ideology is also communicated and reinforced through AA literature and the discussion of central tenets, such as the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the idea that alcoholism is a progressive disease, and the need to be active in one’s sobriety. Moreover, AA meetings provide an opportunity for recovering alcoholics to find others who share similar experiences, an opportunity for greater social comparisons to other alcoholics than are typically available in primary social networks, and group-suggested role obligations that influence commitment to AA and long-term sobriety. These social influence processes have been linked to important health outcomes, including longer abstinence from alcohol use than with other treatment options, reduced stigma associated with alcoholism, reduced stress/depression, increased self-efficacy, and the acquisition of coping skills that are important to the recovery process.
Kristin L. Farris and Maureen P. Keeley
Social support in the context of chronic illness management is important, as individuals diagnosed with these conditions and their loved ones often experience increased distress, reduced relational quality, and diminished physical health as a result of coping with these long-term symptoms. Therefore, diagnosed individuals and their close relational partners rely on others to provide support in their time of need. The communication of social support is characterized by “verbal and nonverbal behavior produced with the intention of providing assistance to others perceived of needing that aid” (MacGeorge, Feng, & Burleson, 2011, p. 317). Individuals living with these chronic illnesses and their loved ones often turn to a variety of interpersonal others, including friends, family, health care providers, and support groups to manage the difficulties that accompany their physical symptoms. Although some researchers suggest that diagnosed individuals seek support most frequently from close relational partners, other scholars assert that chronic care support groups (whether meeting face to face or via computer-mediated channels) offer support recipients an opportunity to discuss their challenges and receive help from experientially similar others.
On the one hand, regardless of the support provider, individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic conditions generally perceive effective supportive communication to be messages in which their support providers enact competent tangible assistance in managing the illness, provide an opportunity for them to vent their feelings, and express messages of empathy and affection, among others. Ineffective messages, on the other hand, are those in which diagnosed individuals feel their partners are overly involved in helping them make decisions about their care or portraying negative attitudes or discomfort around them. Overall, research in this area suggests that support recipients and their relational partners have improved emotional, relational, and physical outcomes when they perceive support to be available or receive effective support from these resources.
Kaite Yang and Emily Pronin
Social psychological research on thinking has generally focused on the attitudes, emotions, motivations, and biases that affect thinking and consequent behavior. What has received less attention is the speed of thinking: how quickly thinking occurs and whether thoughts accelerate or slow down. Communication design and processing may take for granted that the structure and reception of messages occur at a certain speed. Recent findings from the psychological study of thought speed shed light on ways that this research may be applied to health communication. Fast and slow rates of thinking are correlated with distinct patterns of affective, cognitive, physiological, and behavioral events. Fast thinking is associated with positive mood, energy, approach motivation, arousal, creativity, and risk-taking. Slow thinking is associated with negative mood and depression, low energy, and cognitive impairment. Potential theories exist for why psychological and physiological experiences are associated with thought speed.
Recent experimental research demonstrates that thought speed can be successfully manipulated to elicit psychological effects, and it can be manipulated independent of thought content. Researchers, healthcare practitioners, and communicators should be aware of the psychological correlates and consequences of thought speed and consider harnessing the effects of thought speed to augment communication. Thought acceleration and deceleration can be integrated into the design and processing of health communication.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Tourism connects people across geographical, chronological, and cultural borders. In Henri Tajfel’s terms, it is a prime example of intergroup process where collective and interpersonal factors play major roles. People become tourists to fulfill their self-derived motivations, including sensation-, novelty-, and pleasure-seeking, or even good will. Their motivations to travel are influenced by group-related factors, such as media portrayals of the destination and the sense of connectedness to the place of visit. Moreover, contextual variables, such as the presence of diplomatic relations or the level of peace and security, should indicate whether the borders are permeable and open to the tourists, and if the destination is accessible as a viable option for them to visit. Needless to say, simply wanting to be different from one’s everyday selves or desiring to be in a different environment are legitimate reasons for one to be a tourist.
Tourists have contact with other people at various phases of their travel to and from their destinations. Through contact, tourists as guests communicate with their hosts, who are local residents of the destination and tourism-related service providers. Guest-host contact often takes place in limited contexts, and tends to be fleeting, non-intimate, and power-structured, often cast in a “they-us” frame. However, such contact can ultimately bring important social consequences to the tourists and to the destination.
Communication accommodation holds an important key to some of the major outcomes of host-guest contact. Accommodation involves adjustment of one’s linguistic and non-linguistic behaviors during communication for smooth interaction and social approval from others. Successful contact through accommodation can bring positive outcomes to the communicators such as an increase in positive attitudes toward the other and advances in intercultural communication competence, while exploitation, deception, and maintenance of power-differentiated relations are also likely associated with communication accommodation. Likewise, contact between tourists and local residents has potential to contribute to long-term changes in the macro cultural milieu of the destination, including the resurgence or erosion of the traditional culture and languages, increased presence of foreign languages, and building of peaceful relationships between societies, all of which in turn become precursors to the further development of tourism.
Monique Mitchell Turner
In social marketing, the use of guilt appeals can be effective for influencing healthy behaviors. Guilt, being a moral, other-based emotion, can spur people to think of others, act honestly, and be empathetic. Likewise, collective guilt, the feeling that arises when people believe their in-group caused illegitimate harm to others, can lead people to feel positively toward the victimized others and desire policies that will help them. We can see then, that guilt, though often considered “negative” can lead to an array of prosocial, constructive, behaviors. In that vein, a number of researchers have assessed the possibility that guilt based persuasive appeals can induce such positive behaviors.
Clearly, guilt-appeals can be an effective tool for reducing risk (STI testing), increasing prevention practices (encouraging mammograms), and effecting altruistic health-related behaviors (donating blood). In the correct conditions, guilt appeals can induce guilty feelings, lead people to want to “right the wrong,” generate positive attitudes about the message’s advocacy, and intend to engage in a behavior.
Quotations, something that a person says or writes that is then used by someone else in another setting, have long been a staple of news stories. Reporters use quotations—both direct and paraphrased—to document facts, opinions, and emotions from human and institutional sources. From a journalistic standpoint, quotations are beneficial because they add credibility to a news report and allow readers/viewers to consider the source of information when evaluating its usefulness. Quotations are also valued because they are seen as adding a “human” element to a news report by allowing sources to present information in their own words—thus providing an unfiltered first-person perspective that audiences may find more compelling and believable than a detached third-person summary. Research into the effects of news report quotations has documented what journalists long assumed: Quotations, especially direct quotes using the exact words of a speaker, draw the attention of news consumers and are often attended to in news stories more than statistical information. Studies show that the first-person perspective is considered both more vivid and more credible, a phenomenon that newspaper and website designers often capitalize on through the use of graphic elements such as the extracted quote. Quotations in news stories have also been found to serve as a powerful persuasive tool with the ability to influence perception of an issue even in the face of contradictory statistical information. This is especially true when the topic under consideration involves potential risk. Direct quotations from individuals who perceive high levels of risk in a situation can sway audience perceptions, regardless of whether the quoted risk assessments are supported by reality. The power of quotations remains strong in other forms of communication involving risk, such as public service, health-related, or promotional messages. The vivid, first-person nature of quotes draws the attention of audiences and makes the quoted information more likely to be remembered and to influence future judgments regarding the issue in question. This presents the message creator, whether it be a journalist or other type of communicator, with a powerful tool that should be constructed and deployed purposefully in an effort to leave audiences with an accurate perception of the topic under consideration.