Amanda J. Dillard and Erin M. Ellis
When individuals are asked whether they will someday own their own home, enjoy a productive career, or develop a myriad of diseases, many are optimistic. Generally, they think they will experience more good than bad outcomes in life and they view themselves as more likely than similar others to experience the good things and less likely than others to experience the bad things. In the area of health behavior and communication, there are three primary types of optimism that have been defined and operationalized: (1) Dispositional optimism is the generalized positive expectancy that one will experience good outcomes. (2) Comparative optimism refers to the belief that one is either more likely than others to experience positive events or less likely than others to experience negative events. (3) Unrealistic optimism refers to an underestimation of one’s actual risk of experiencing some negative event. Although the three types of optimism may be correlated, their associations may be modest. Also, unlike dispositional optimism, which is an individual difference, comparative and unrealistic optimism are often risk perceptions about specific events and therefore can be defined as accurate or inaccurate. For this reason, the latter two types of optimism have sometimes been labeled the optimistic bias. Research on all three varieties of optimism affords opportunities to understand how optimism influences information processing in a health message or one’s behavioral intentions following the message.
Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Alexie Hays, and Ryan Maliski
The parent–child relationship is one of the most influential, important, and meaningful relationships in an individual’s life. The communication between parents and children fuels their bond and functions to socialize children (i.e., gender, career and work, relationship values and skills, and health behaviors), provide social support, show affection, make sense of their life experiences, engage in conflict, manage private information, and create a family communication environment. How parents and children manage these functions changes over time as their relationship adapts over the developmental periods of their lives. Mothers and fathers may also respond differently to the changing needs of their children, given the unique relational cultures that typically exist in mother–child versus father–child relationships.
Although research on parent–child communication is vast and thorough, the constant changes faced by families in the 21st century—including more diverse family structures—provides ample avenues for future research on this complex relationship. Parent–child communication in diverse families (e.g., divorced/stepfamilies, adoptive, multiracial, LGBTQ, and military families) must account for the complexity of identities and experiences in these families. Further, changes in society such as advances in technology, the aging population, and differing parenting practices are also transforming the parent–child relationship. Because this relationship is a vital social resource for both parents and children throughout their lives, researchers will undoubtedly continue to seek to understand the complexities of this important family dyad.
Natoshia Askelson and Erica Spies
Parents can be the target of health and risk messages about their children and can be a channel by which children hear health messages. This dual role can make parents powerful agents for change in children’s health. Parents receive health messages from a variety of sources including health care providers, schools, the media, the government, and family. Parents tend to be a more frequent target for health messages when their children are infants or young. They receive many messages related to keeping their children safe. Most of these messages are not developed as part of a rigorous data-driven and theory-based intervention and often lack sophisticated message development and design. Furthermore, instead of segmenting parents and tailoring messages, parents are frequently treated as a monolith, with no diversity related to behavior or communication.
As children age, parents can become the channel by which children can hear a health message. Parents of school-age children and adolescents are continually communicating messages to their children and are often targeted to communicate messages related to health or risk behaviors. Intentional efforts to encourage parents to talk to their children are often related to risk behaviors among older children. Specifically, parents are asked to convey messages about sexual health, alcohol and drug use, and driving. Evidence points to parent–child communication in general and communication about specific risk behaviors as protective for children. Research has also suggested that adolescents want to hear health messages from their parents. Parents are a natural choice to communicate about health and risk throughout childhood and adolescence due to the parent–child relationship and the influence parents can have over children. However, this special relationship does not automatically translate into parents having good communication skills. Messages designed to encourage parents to communicate with their children about a health topic have often been developed with the assumption that parents know what to communicate and how to effectively communicate with their children. Deficits in communication skills among parents have been recognized by some campaign developers, and an emphasis on developing those skills has been a significant part of some messages targeting parents. Health communication campaigns have been developed to inform parents about when and how to talk to their children about health issues such as alcohol, drugs, and sex. Unfortunately, not all parent–child communication is positive or effective and this can have potential unintended consequences. Treating parents as an audience in a more nuanced manner, with greater emphasis on evidence-based message development, could result in more effective messages and better health outcomes.
William Mosley-Jensen and Edward Panetta
Health professionals and the public puzzle through new or controversial issues by deploying patterns of reasoning that are found in a variety of social contexts. While particular issues and vocabulary may require field specific training, the patterns of reasoning used by health advocates and authors reflect rhetorical forms found in society at large. The choices made by speakers often impact the types of evidence used in constructing an argument. For scholars interested in issues of policy, attending to the construction of arguments and the dominant cultural modes of reasoning can help expand the understanding of a persuasive argument in a health context. Argumentation scholars have been attentive to the patterns of reasoning for centuries. Deductive and inductive reasoning have been the most widely studied patterns in the disciplines of communication, philosophy, and psychology. The choice of reasoning, from generalization to specific case or from specific case to generalization, is often portrayed as an exclusive one. The classical pattern of deductive reasoning is the syllogism. Since its introduction to the field of communication in 1957, the Toulmin model has been the most impactful device used by critics to map inductive reasoning. Both deductive and inductive modes of argumentative reasoning draw upon implicit, explicit, and affective reasoning. While the traditional study of reasoning focused on the individual choice of a pattern of reasoning to represent a claim, in the last 40 years, there has been increasing attention to social deliberative reasoning in the field of communication. The study of social (public) deliberative reasoning allows argument scholars to trace patterns of argument that explain policy decisions that can, in some cases, exclude some rhetorical voices in public controversies, including matters of health and welfare.
Nancy Grant Harrington
The study of persuasive health messages—their design, dissemination, and impact—is ubiquitous in the communication discipline. Words, sounds, and images—alone or in combination—can move people to change their minds and their bodies. Micro-level topics surround questions of message content (argumentation scheme, evidence, qualifying language, and figurative language), structure (message sidedness, standpoint articulation, inoculation, and sequential strategies), and format (channel and audiovisual effects). Macro-level topics in this area include message sensation value, narrative, framing, emotional appeals, and tailoring. Central theoretical frameworks used to guide message design research, include health behavior change theories, information processing theories, and theories/frameworks for message design. In addition, some of the methodoligical issues inherent in message design research are questions of analysis, validity, and measurement. Four streams of past scholarship that inform persuasive health message design research: Greek rhetoric, mass communication research begun during World War II, the development of health communication as a research focus within the communication discipline, and the development of computer and telecommunications technology. Directions and challenges for future research include the need for a clear, coherent, and comprehensive taxonomy to classify message characteristics and attention to several methodological issues.
This article discusses the various ways in which political concerns among government officials, scientists, journalists, and the public influence the production, communication, and reception of scientific knowledge. In so doing, the article covers a wide variety of topics, mainly with a focus on the U.S. context. The article begins by defining key terms under discussion and explaining why science is so susceptible to political influence. The article then proceeds to discuss: the government’s current and historical role as a funder, manager, and consumer of scientific knowledge; how the personal interests and ideologies of scientists can influence their research; the susceptibility of scientific communication to politicization and the concomitant political impact on audiences; the role of the public’s political values, identities, and interests in their understanding of science; and, finally, the role of the public, mainly through interest groups and think tanks, in shaping the production and public discussion of scientific knowledge. While the article’s primary goal is to provide an empirical description of these influences, a secondary, normative, goal is to clarify when political values and interests are or are not appropriate influences on the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge in a democratic context.
Kimberly N. Kline
Popular media are a source of information, a powerful socializing agent, and generate sociopolitical and sociocultural meanings that impinge on health promotion and/or disease prevention efforts and individual lived experiences. Thus, motivated by the goal of improving individual and social health, multidisciplinary scholars attend to the implications of entertainment and news media with regard to a range of topics such as individual health threats related to prevention, health conditions and illnesses, patient–provider interactions and expectations, public health issues related to crisis management and health recommendations, and public policy. Scholarship in this line of research may approach the study of popular media guided by the social scientific tradition of media effects theory to explain and predict response or by critical theory to consider ideological implications and employ different methodologies to describe and evaluate the images of health and health-related matters to which people are being exposed or that focus on media representations or audience (both individual and societal) response.
Mengfei Guan and Jennifer L. Monahan
Positive emotional appeals can be an important, if often underutilized, component in health campaigns. Research reviewed from advertising, marketing, health communication, and social influence demonstrated how campaigns can promote risk-reduction behaviors by focusing on positive incentives, highlighting positive outcomes, and evoking positive feelings toward the health-related behavior. People who feel good during and after exposure to a health message tend to have favorable attitudes toward the message, which in turn establishes more open, rather than resistant, attitudes toward the issue or risk-reduction behavior promoted in the message. Along with influencing behavior via attitudes, positive affect can have a direct impact on behavior or intention. As suggested by broaden-and-build theory, positive affect broadens attention and thinking processes, increases openness to information, and helps form beliefs that the behavioral change promoted in the message is possible. Relatedly, positive affect tends to activate approach-oriented behaviors through the function of the behavioral activation system.
Two primary strategies have demonstrated efficacy at promoting positive feelings: the use of gain-framed appeals and evoking the core relational theme of happiness. Gain-framed appeals emphasize the rewards obtained by following message recommendations and can boost behavioral adoption, particularly of proscriptive behaviors, by highlighting positive outcomes and goal congruency. Happiness occurs when people believe they are making progress toward realizing their goals, and messages can be created to induce positive feelings like happiness by focusing on self-efficacy, response efficacy, and perceived benefits. Positive message appeals are especially useful for counteracting the potential drawbacks of traditional negative appeals in that they can reduce message fatigue, gain attention, and attenuate psychological reactance. Challenges for future research include increasing efforts to systematically understand how and when to best utilize the power of positive messages in campaigns. Another related challenge is to examine how positive affect is aroused at a particular stage of exposure to health risk messages, and how emotions (both negative and positive), flow, evolve, and transit from one to another (e.g., fear to relief, anxiety to happiness) during and after message exposure.
Arvind Singhal and Lucia Dura
The Positive Deviance (PD) approach is based on the premise that every community has individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers although everyone has access to the same resources and challenges. In contrast to traditional problem-solving approaches that begin with an expert-driven analysis of “what is not working” with people—their explicit needs, deficits, problems, and risks—followed by attempts to plug those gaps, the PD approach focuses on identifying “what is working.” PD offers a systematic framework to identify assets, indigenous knowledge, and home-grown solutions, and to amplify them for wider adoption.
The PD approach was operationalized and systematized in the early 1990s in Vietnam to address malnutrition. At the time, 65% of children under five were malnourished. Instead of looking for the causes and applying best practices, PD pioneers looked for children from very poor families who were well-nourished. Through community-led efforts, they determined the existence of positive deviants, identified their behaviors and strategies, and amplified them. The process was replicated across 14 villages—each identifying its own batch of local practices—and malnutrition decreased by 85%. These actions led to PD as we know it today in the form of the “6 Ds”: Define, Determine, Discover, Design, Discern, and Disseminate.
PD has been used widely to address a large number of intractable social problems—many of them dealing with health and risk: reducing endemic malnutrition, decreasing neonatal and maternal mortality, reducing goiter and diseases of micronutrient deficiency, boosting organ transplantation rates and cancer screenings, increasing mental well-being and psychological resilience, preventing and controlling malaria and Chagas, and reducing hospital-acquired infections in healthcare.
From 2004 to 2008, six U.S. hospitals pioneered the use of PD to address the growing incidence of infections caused by the antibiotic resistant bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). PD was used to identify and amplify evidence-based infection prevention practices. Pilot outcomes included a 73% average reduction in healthcare-associated MRSA infections units and a subsequent decrease of between 33 and 84% at the different hospitals.
The PD approach to problem-solving holds important implications for public health scholars and practitioners, risk communicators, and message designers. The cases of Vietnam and one of the pilot hospitals are used to illustrate the ways that through language- and action-based strategies PD challenges traditional risk and health messaging, proposing instead an asset-based, participatory, and sustainable framework.
Shirley S. Ho and Andrew Z. H. Yee
Health communication research has often focused on how features of persuasive health messages can directly influence the intended target audience of the messages. However, scholars examining presumed media influence on human behavior have underscored the need to think about how various audience’s health behavior can be unexpectedly influenced by their exposure to media messages. Two central theoretical frameworks have been used to guide research examining the unintended effects: the third-person effect and the influence of presumed media influence (IPMI). The theoretical explanations for presumed media influence is built on attribution bias, self-enhancement, perceived exposure, perceived relevance, and self-categorization. Even though both the third-person effect and the IPMI share some theoretical foundations, and are historically related, the IPMI has been argued to be better suited to explaining a broader variety of behavioral consequences. One major way that presumed media influence can affect an individual’s health behavior is through the shifting of various types of normative beliefs: descriptive, subjective, injunctive, and personal norms. These beliefs can manifest through normative pressure that is theoretically linked to behavioral intentions. In other words, media have the capability to create the perception that certain behaviors are prevalent, inculcating a normative belief that can lead to the uptake of, or restrain, health behaviors. Scholars examining presumed media influence have since provided empirical support in a number of specific media and behavioral health contexts. Existing findings provide a useful base for health communication practitioners to think about how presumed media influence can be integrated into health campaigns and message design. Despite the proliferation of research in this area, there remains a need for future research to examine these effects in a new media environment, to extend research into a greater number of health outcomes, to incorporate actual behavioral measures, and to ascertain the hypothesized causal chain of events in the model.