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.
Message Recipient Psychological Characteristics: Incurious and Curious Motives to Learn about Health Risks
Successfully conveying information about the risk of potential threats to an individual’s physical and mental health is a serious challenge for healthcare practitioners. Adding to the challenge is the role of individual differences in people’s tendencies to want to learn (or in their choice to passively avoid) new information. These characteristic motives can be both curious and incurious in nature and interact with the perceived locus of the relevant health threat, which must be taken into account first. Some health threats are relatively “external,” and involve addressing the potential risk of an undesired event (e.g., developing illness, encountering relationship troubles). Research indicates that individuals who view external threats as “controllable” are more likely to respond positively to relevant information, but perception of control alone does not determine whether health-relevant information is likely to be sought or acted on. Besides perceived controllability, individual differences in incurious worry reduction motives (IWRM) play an important role as well. Two different kinds of IWRM have been identified: focus on distress (IWRM-FD) and focus on relief (IWRM-FR). Dispositional tendencies toward IWRM-FD are associated with greater willingness to seek out information when risk is perceived as low (i.e., information about the potential external threat is expected to make one feel better), but a tendency to passively avoid any information when risk is considered high (i.e., information is expected to intensify distress). In contrast, tendencies toward IWRM-FR reflect wanting more information about potential threats when risk is believed to be high, while passively avoiding news when perceived risk is low. In regard to coping with perceived risk, IWRM-FD scores predict avoidant coping, whereas IWRM-FR levels are associated with proactive coping and seeking others’ advice.
Other risks are more “internal,” and involve threats to an individual’s certainty about his or her self-concept, purpose in life, or the wisdom of past behavior; in short, an “identity crisis.” Such threats underlie wondering things like “Who am I, really?” and are associated with less self-awareness, lower self-esteem, and greater overall distress. In response to internal threats, intrapersonal curiosity (InC) motivates individuals to engage in introspective self-exploration that may help them to clarify, to elaborate on, and to improve their understanding of their self-concept. Recent research has found that individual differences in InC are positively associated with IWRM, suggesting that dealing with identity crises involves the desire to better know oneself, as well as wishing to mitigate worries about experiencing self-doubt.
Bearing the above in mind, research on individual differences in tendencies to avail oneself of different coping strategies indicates that proactive coping (e.g., positive reframing, seeking advice) tends to result in beneficial outcomes, such as personal growth and improved health, but some proactive strategies are “double-edged” and may lead to some negative outcomes as well. In particular, proactive strategies like acceptance of one’s limitations or discussing them with others when seeking social support were helpful, but they also had the potential to leave individuals feeling less sure of themselves. These findings suggest that practitioners who wish to more effectively communicate information about risk of potential health threats should consider whether the nature of the threat is internal or external, the role of individual differences in IWRM and InC, and how to help their patients to focus on the positive benefits of acceptance (i.e., identify solvable problems) and seeking social support (i.e., acquiring useful advice) over the negative aspects (i.e., admitting limitations).
Message sensation value (MSV) is defined as the degree to which a message’s format and content features elicit sensory, affective, and arousal responses. MSV research has received considerable scholarly and professional attention for more than two decades. The seminal work, to date, has been conducted by the Kentucky School. MSV was initially operationalized as perceived message sensation value (PMSV). The activation model of information exposure (AMIE) provides the basis for explaining the functional mechanism of MSV and PMSV. The AMIE proposes that exposure is a function of the interaction between an individual’s sensation-seeking tendency and sensation-enhancing attributes of the message itself.
There are three primary types of message features that contribute to MSV: (a) the formal video dimension, (b) the formal audio dimension, and (c) the content dimension. There is an important distinction between subjective reactions to the message (PMSV) and the format and content features contributing to these reactions (MSV).
In general, messages of high relative to low in sensation value have elicited greater message processing and more favorable evaluations across a range of outcome variables in health communication. Some health communication campaigns have employed high sensation value messages to target high sensation seekers. This sensation-seeking targeting approach, SENTAR, however, has received mixed and limited support. The influence of MSV on message effectiveness might be very similar for the two groups. Recently, some scholars have attempted to situate AMIE in a broader context of persuasion. First, AMIE and the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) offer competing predictions in terms of the role of MSV in persuasion, such that AMIE stresses a straightforward attention-getting effect, whereas ELM predicts a distracting effect of MSV interfering with message’s content. The very few studies conducted thus far reveal limited and mixed findings. Second, in the integration of MSV research with the appraisal theory and excitation-transfer theory, MSV may function as an arousal generator to amplify the influence of discrete emotions on perceived message effectiveness. Third, according to the psychological reactance theory, there are challenges with implementing high sensation value (HSV) messages, in that they potentially could backfire among the target audiences. Messages with HSV may garner better-perceived effectiveness when they tone down the controlling language.
Future studies should investigate the relationships between specific MSV-enhancing features and message processing. They can expand the literature by studying the impact of MSV in a variety of media message contexts (e.g., broadcast journalism). Future experiments might also incorporate psychophysiological measures (e.g., skin response and heart-rate deceleration) to complement self-reported measures. Future studies should continue to explore other features (e.g., visual-verbal redundancy) that might affect attention and message processing jointly with MSV, and other individual difference variables, such as need for cognition, trait reactance, locus of control, and etc.
Mia Liza A. Lustria
In today’s saturated media environment, it is incumbent for designers of health education materials to find more effective and efficient ways of capturing the attention of the public, particularly when the intent is to influence individual behavior change. Tailoring is a message design strategy that has been shown to amplify the effectiveness of health messages at an individual level. It is a data-driven and theory-informed strategy for crafting a message using knowledge of various factors that might influence the individual’s responsiveness to the message, such as their information needs, beliefs, motivations, and health behaviors. It also enhances the persuasiveness of a message by increasing its perceived relevance, drawing attention to the message, and encouraging deeper elaboration of the information. Tailoring content based on known antecedents of the intended behavioral outcomes has been shown to enhance tailoring effectiveness. Compared to generic messages, tailored messages are perceived to be more personally relevant, command greater attention, are recalled more readily, and encourage more positive evaluations of the information overall. Various meta-analyses have demonstrated the effectiveness of tailored interventions promoting a number of health behaviors, such as smoking cessation, healthy diet and nutrition, physical activity, and regular recommended health screenings.
Advances in information and communication technologies have led to more sophisticated, multimodal tailored interventions with improved reach, and more powerful expert systems and data analysis models. Web technologies have made it possible to scale the production and delivery of tailored messages to multiple individuals at relatively low cost and to improve access to expert feedback, particularly among hard-to-reach population groups.
Simon Zebregs and Gert-Jan de Bruijn
Meta-analyses are becoming increasingly popular in the field of health and risk communication—meta-analyses allow for more precise estimations of the magnitude of effects and the robustness of those effects across empirical studies in a particular domain. Despite its popularity, most scholars are not trained in the basic methods involved with meta-analyses. There are advantages to meta-analysis in comparison to other forms of research synthesis. An overview of the methods involved in conducting and reporting meta-analytical research is helpful.
However, the methods involved with meta-analyses are not as clear-cut as they may first appear. Numerous issues must be considered and various arbitrary decisions are required during the process. These issues and decisions relate to various topics such as inclusion criteria, the selection of sources, quality assessments for eligible studies, and publication bias. Basic knowledge of these issues and decisions is important for interpreting the outcomes of a meta-analysis correctly.
Metaphor equates two concepts or domains of concepts in an A is B form, such that a comparison is implied between the two parts leading to a transfer of features typically associated with B (called source) to A (called target). Metaphor is evident in written, spoken, gestural, and pictorial modalities. It is also present as latent patterns of thought in the form of conceptual mappings between domains of experience called conceptual metaphor. Metaphor is found commonly in a variety of health and risk communication contexts, including public discourse, public understanding and perceptions, medical encounters, and clinical assessment. Often metaphor use is beneficial to achieving desired message effects; however, sometimes its use in a message can lead to unintended undesirable effects. There is a general consensus, although not complete agreement, that metaphors in messages are processed through engagement with corresponding conceptual mappings. This matching process can be taken as a general principle for design of metaphor-based health and risk messages.
Jessica Fitts Willoughby
People who communicate health and risk information are often trying to determine new and innovative ways to reach members of their target audience. Because of the nearly ubiquitous use of mobile phones among individuals in the United States and the continued proliferation of such devices around the world, communicators have turned to mobile as a possible channel for disseminating health information. Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, uses mobile and portable devices to communicate information about health and to monitor health issues. Cell phones are one primary form of mHealth, with the use of cell phone features such as text messaging and mobile applications (apps) often used as a way to provide health information and motivation to target audience members. Text messaging, or short message service (SMS), is a convenient form for conveying health information, as most cell phone owners regularly send and receive text messages. mHealth offers benefits over other channels for communicating health information, such as convenience, portability, interactivity, and the ability to personalize or tailor messages. Additionally, mHealth has been found to be effective at changing attitudes and behaviors related to health. Research has found mobile to be a tool useful for promoting healthy attitudes and behaviors related to a number of topic areas, from increased sexual health to decreased alcohol consumption. Literature from health communication and research into mHealth can provide guidance for health communicators looking to develop an effective mHealth intervention or program, but possible concerns related to the use of mobile need to be considered, such as concerns about data security and participant privacy.
Melissa J. Robinson and Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick
In today’s media-saturated environment, individuals may be exposed to hundreds of media messages on a wide variety of topics each day. It is impossible for individuals to attend to every media message, and instead, they engage in the phenomenon of selective exposure, where certain messages are chosen and attended to more often than others. Health communication professionals face challenges in creating messages that can attract the attention of targeted audiences when health messages compete with more entertaining programming. In fact, one of the greatest obstacles for health campaigns is a lack of adequate exposure among targeted recipients. Individuals may avoid health messages completely or counterargue against persuasive attempts to change their health-related attitudes and behaviors. Once individuals have been exposed to a health message, their current mood plays an important role in the processing of health information and decision making. Early research indicated that a positive mood might actually be detrimental to information processing because individuals are more likely to process the information heuristically. However, recent studies countered these results and suggested that individuals in positive moods are more likely to attend to self-relevant health information, with increased recall and greater intent to change their behaviors.
Since mood has the ability to influence exposure to health messages and subsequent message processing, it is important for individuals to be able to manage their mood prior to health information exposure and possibly even during exposure. One way individuals can influence their moods is through media use including TV shows, movies, and music. Mood management theory predicts that individuals choose media content to improve and maintain positive moods and examines the mood-impacting characteristics of stimuli that influence individuals’ media selections. Therefore, an individual’s mood plays an important role in selection of any type of communication (e.g., news, documentaries, comedies, video games, or sports).
How can health message designers influence individuals’ selection and attention to health messages when negative moods may be blocking overtly persuasive attempts to change behaviors and a preference for entertaining media content? The narrative persuasion research paradigm suggests that embedding health information into entertainment messages may be a more effective method to overcome resistance or counterarguing than traditional forms of health messages (e.g., advertisements or articles). It is evident that mood plays a complex role in message selection and subsequent processing. Future research is necessary to examine the nuances between mood and health information processing including how narratives may maintain positive moods through narrative selection, processing, and subsequent attitude and/or behavior change.