Referred to as the “most consistent and reliable method for conferring resistance to persuasion” by Miller et al. in 2013, over the past 50 years inoculation has exerted significant influence in shaping theoretical and contextual resistance research and message design. Used as a message strategy, inoculation elicits threat, or realized attitudinal/behavioral vulnerability, which motivates individuals to shore up attitudinal/behavioral defenses by providing both material and guided practice aiding the process of effective counterarguing, which in turn increases individuals’ resistance to attitudinal/behavioral challenges. The motivation is responsible for sustaining the inoculation effect over an extended period of time. Inoculation messages, however, do much more than just inspire a robust defense. They motivate individuals to engage others regarding the attitudinal/behavioral topic in an attempt to reassure and advocate their positions, thus diffusing the inoculation message over social networks. The attitudinal/behavior protection elicited by inoculation messages is not limited to the message’s target attitude/behavior, but instead spreads over related attitudes/behaviors as well, thus increasing the pragmatic utility of this message strategy. Inoculation’s effectiveness extends beyond the realm of resistance, as inoculation messages are also effective in both shaping and changing attitudes/behaviors.
Because of its success, inoculation-based message strategies have been applied in numerous contexts and with numerous topics. Some of inoculation’s applied contexts include commercial, instruction/education, interpersonal, political, corporate, public relations, cross-cultural, health, and risk. More specifically, in the health and risk contexts, inoculation has been applied in promotion or prevention capacity on topics such as politically-motivated violent acts, smoking, drinking, unprotected sex, vaccination, and health-related policy, with current research exploring its efficacy in addiction interventions and indoor tanning-bed usage prevention. Inoculation may also be used as a strategy to reduce recidivism in criminal prison inmates and preventing verbal aggression in schools. Additional promising areas for application of inoculation-based strategies may include the promotion and protection of healthy eating habits as well as positive attitudes/behaviors toward mammograms, colonoscopies, breastfeeding, and regular exercise, just to name a few. As Ivanov suggested, the “application of the strategy [is] boundless.”
Carla L. Fisher and Thomas Roccotagliata
From birth to death, our interactions with others are what inform our identity and give meaning to life. Ultimately, it is interpersonal communication that is the bedrock of wellness. Much of the scholarship on interpersonal communication places communication in the background, characterized merely as a resource, symptom, or contributing factor to change. In the study of our interpersonal experiences, communication must be at the forefront. As a pragmatic lens concerned with real-world issues, a life-span perspective of interpersonal scholarship provides boundless opportunities for bridging science and practice in meaningful ways that improve social life on multiple levels, from families to schools to government to hospitals. Interpersonal communication research that is concerned with life-span issues tends to prioritize communicative phenomena and bring the communication dynamics of our relational lives to the surface. Typically, this scholarship is organized around the various stages or phases of life. In other words, researchers concerned with interpersonal communication often contextualize this behavior based on dimensions of human development and life changes we typically encounter across the life course, those major life experiences from birth to death. Much of that scholarship also centers on how we develop competence in communication across time or how communication competence is critical to our ability to attain relational satisfaction as well as a high psychological and physical quality of life. This research also highlights the influential role of age, human development, and generational differences, recognizing that our place in the life span impacts our goals and needs and that our sociocultural-historical experiences also inform our communication preferences. A life-span perspective of interpersonal communication also encompasses various theoretical paradigms that have been developed within and outside the communication discipline. Collectively, this scholarship helps illustrate the communicative nature of human life across the entire life trajectory.
Ashley Kennard, Courtney Anderegg, and David Ewoldsen
Knowledge and comprehension are essential components of an individual’s understanding of a health text. Whether reading a health pamphlet or watching a health campaign in the form of a public service announcement (PSA), or watching edutainment programming, individuals gain knowledge about the health topic being discussed. Knowledge, however, can only be retained if the individual can also comprehend the text or video. Often comprehension in a health context focuses on health literacy or the degree to which individuals can process and understand health information in order to make informed health decisions. Health literacy is commonly viewed in terms of the readability (e.g., reading level, complexity) of the health text or script. However, in order for individuals to gain knowledge and use that knowledge appropriately and effectively in making health decisions, individuals need to comprehend or understand what the text is conveying.
Because comprehension is such an important component of gaining and using health knowledge, we must understand how we store health knowledge in memory. A schema is a mental representation that stores knowledge as interrelated pieces of information. Schemas tend to be a fairly static representation of knowledge. A mental model is a more dynamic mental representation in that we use mental models to process, organize, and comprehend incoming information. In a mental model, there is a correspondence between an external entity and the constructed mental model of that entity that allows people to counterfactually manipulate information and engage in problem solving. A situation model is the most contextualized mental representation because it encompasses a specific event or set of interrelated events. There are several ways in which to examine comprehension processes. One way is to examine the most basic level of comprehension by investigating the importance of language and semantic representation of a text. A more complex way to examine comprehension is to view the activation levels of various words or concepts important in creating a representation of the story structure in memory. One model that specifically examines concept activation is the landscape model. The model posits that greater frequency of activation and the strength of activation of a concept determine the concept’s overall activation level. The higher the activation level of a concept in a text or video, the more likely the concept will be included in the mental representation for the text or video and stored in memory. A third way to study comprehension is to examine how concepts change throughout a text and how the concepts relate to one another. The event-indexing model describes how individuals create situation models based on five dimensions of information: time, space, protagonist, causality, and intentionality. Throughout the process of gaining information, the individual updates the situation models for a text on each of the five dimensions. When events have similar dimensions in common, the events are connected in memory; thus, describing health information with similar dimensions in common (e.g., a protagonist the entire way through the text, events happening in the same amount of time) will be better recalled later. Empirical work on comprehension of both text and video messages has demonstrated the landscape model and event-indexing model’s ability to examine comprehension processes based on the format, language, and organization of the information. Health message design can benefit from utilizing these comprehension models to ensure that knowledge is received by the intended audience and comprehended, and thus able to be used in future experiences.
How do individuals relate to risk in everyday life? Poorly, judging by the very influential works within psychology that focus upon the heuristics and biases inherent to lay responses to risk and uncertainty. The point of departure for such research is that risks are calculable, and, as lay responses often under- or overestimate statistical probabilities, they are more or less irrational. This approach has been criticized for failing to appreciate that risks are managed in relation to a multitude of other values and needs, which are often difficult to calculate instrumentally. Thus, real-life risk management is far too complex to allow simple categorizations of rational or irrational.
A developing strand of research within sociology and other disciplines concerned with sociocultural aspects transcends the rational/irrational dichotomy when theorizing risk management in everyday life. The realization that factors such as emotion, trust, scientific knowledge, and intuition are functional and inseparable parts of lay risk management have been differently conceptualized: as, for example, bricolage, in-between strategies, and emotion-risk assemblage. The common task of this strand is trying to account for the complexity and social embeddedness of lay risk management, often by probing deep into the life-world using qualitative methods. Lay risk management is structured by the need to “get on” with life, while at the same time being surrounded by sometimes challenging risk messages.
This perspective on risk and everyday life thus holds potentially important lessons for risk communicators. For risk communication to be effective, it needs to understand the complexity of lay risk management and the interpretative resources that are available to people in their lifeworld. It needs to connect to and be made compatible with those resources, and it needs to leave room for agency so that people can get on with their lives while at the same time incorporating the risk message. It also becomes important to understand and acknowledge the meaning people attribute to various practices and how this is related to self-identity. When this is not the case, risk messages will likely be ignored or substantially modified. In essence, communicating risk requires groundwork to figure out how and why people relate to the risks in question in their specific context.
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.
Jonathan Riet, Jorinde Spook, Paul Ketelaar, and Arief Huhn
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
It has long since been established that individuals’ physical environment has an important influence on their (un)healthy behavior. According to many, health promotion should, therefore, take place at the level of the individual, and should also change the environment. In this “ecological” approach to health promotion, providing information on the consequences of healthy and unhealthy behavior is combined with environmental interventions. Importantly, recent technological developments have made it possible to move beyond standard environmental interventions. The increasing availability of location-tracking technologies such as GPS-enabled mobile phones makes it possible to send health messages that are targeted to individuals’ physical locations, thereby interacting with and changing individuals’ environment.
Our research groups have conducted several experimental studies investigating the influence of location-based messages on food choices in a supermarket setting. These studies show that location-based messages influence purchase behavior, as long as they are congruent with individuals’ goals. Thus, in situations where the content of location-based messages can be tailored to both the personal goals of individuals and to location, location-based messages may be a very powerful tool for health promotion. These studies show that the effects of location-based messages are independent of medium (mobile device vs. digital display in the supermarket), and that location-based messages are generally not regarded as particularly intrusive. Future research should investigate which message content is likely to be effective under which circumstances. Also, field experiments can investigate the effectiveness and acceptability of large-scale application of this technology. Specific attention should be paid to issues of privacy.
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process.
The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions.
In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.
Kathryn E. Anthony, Timothy L. Sellnow, Steven J. Venette, and Sean P. Fourney
Much current scholarship in the realm of information processing and decision making, particularly in the context of health risks, is derived from the logical-empiricist paradigm, involving a strong focus on cognition, routes of psychological processing of messages, and message heuristics. The message convergence framework (MCF), derived heavily from the writings of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, contributes to this body of literature by emphasizing the fact that people make decisions on health risks while being exposed to arguments from multiple sources on the same topic. The MCF offers an explanation for how people reconcile myriad messages to arrive at decisions. MCF differs from other theories of message processing because of its distinct and unique focus on arguments, messages, and the ways various arguments interact to create “convergence” in individuals’ minds. The MCF focuses on the ways that multiple messages converge to create meaning and influence in the minds of listeners. Convergence occurs when messages from multiple sources overlap in ways recognized by observers, creating perceptions of credibility and influencing their risk decisions. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca explain that convergence occurs when “several distinct arguments lead to a single conclusion.” Individuals assess the strengths and weaknesses of the claims, and according to the scholars, the “strength” of the arguments “is almost always recognized.” Three key propositions focusing on message convergence articulate that audiences recognize message convergence, that they actively seek convergence in matters of concern, such as health risk, and that this convergence is potentially fleeting as new messages are introduced to the discussion.
Conversely, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca also discuss message divergence, and the rationale for wanting to intentionally create divergence among interacting arguments. Divergence is particularly appropriate in the realm of health and risk messages when scholars must challenge potentially harmful beliefs or correct misinformation. Some strategies for invoking divergence in include: dissociation, in which the speaker attempts to reframe the argument to create novel understandings; identification of the stock, hackneyed, and obsolete, where the speaker attempts to make existing claims appear commonplace or obsolete to the listener; refutation of fallacies, where the speaker points out the fallacious reasoning of the opponent; clash of interpretation, where the speaker publicly articulates that individuals have understood the convergence to mean different things; weakening through reaction, which involves the speaker’s attempting to incite a reactionary approach by the opponent; and finally, highlighting the consequence of invalid convergence, where the speaker describes the negative outcomes that may occur from following a false convergence based on incorrect information.
For message design, environmental scanning enables scholars and practitioners to assess the messages in a particular health-risk context. This assessment can assist practitioners in emphasizing or building convergence among reputable sources and in introducing divergence in cases where misunderstanding or a lack of evidence has contributed to an unproductive perception of convergence. Ultimately, the MCF can assist practitioners in scanning their health-risk environments for opportunities to establish or bolster convergence based on credible evidence and for introducing divergence to challenge inaccurate or misleading interpretations and evidence.
Daniel J. O'Keefe
Many health-related message variations have been described as variations in the framing of the message. What different applications of the term message framing have in common is that, in each case, something gets described in different ways (with researchers having a special interest in the consequences of these different descriptions). But what that “thing” is and how the descriptions of it differ vary across different uses of the term framing. In research on health-related messages, at least three different variations have been described using “framing” as a label.
One concerns variation in consequence-based arguments in persuasive messages. In this kind of framing, what varies is the description of the antecedent or consequent in arguments designed to persuade people to adopt some course of action. For example, the antecedent in an argument designed to encourage sunscreen use might be expressed as “if you wear sunscreen” or “if you don’t wear sunscreen,” and the consequent of such arguments might emphasize sunburns or skin cancer. A second concerns variation in the description of some news event, public policy issue, or health subject. For example, news media might describe obesity as controllable or as something over which one has limited control. A third concerns variation in the description of an attribute of a course of action. For example, a surgical procedure might be described as having a “90% success rate” or a “10% failure rate.”
Nichole Egbert and Foluke Omosun
Self-efficacy is the personal belief in one’s ability to meet a goal or perform a specific task. Although it can be applied to any type of human endeavor, the construct of self-efficacy is thought to be central to changing behaviors to improve health outcomes. For this reason, message designers have been attempting to understand how messages detract from or enhance self-efficacy. Persuasive messages have and can be used to enhance perceived self-efficacy related to health and risk behavior. Self-efficacy-strengthening messages and interventions in health promotion can be assessed in general or specfically in regards to fear appeals. Other aspects of self-efficacy interventions include collective efficacy and professional self-efficacy.