Patrick J. Ewell and Rosanna E. Guadagno
According to Nisbett and Ross, “Information may be described as vivid, that is, as likely to attract and hold our attention and excite the imagination to the extent that it is (a) emotionally interesting, (b) concrete and imagery-provoking, and (c) proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way.” Despite a widespread belief held by scholars and practitioners alike that vividness enhances persuasion, most early studies on this topic found weak or nonexistent vividness effects. To further understand this relationship, subsequent research focused on explaining these inconsistent findings. Taylor and Thompson explored the different ways that vividness has been operationalized across studies. Guadagno, Okdie, Sagarin, DeCoster, and Rhoads elucidated the conditions under which vividness enhances or detracts from persuasion. Generally, the extant literature suggests that vividness is an effective means of enhancing persuasion when the main point of a communication is the sole component made vivid. These findings caution against attempts to persuade by increasing overall message vividness, because off-thesis or incongruent vividness has the unintended and undercutting consequence of distracting influence targets from the point of the communication. This conclusion is based on the results of individual empirical studies as well as meta-analytic findings. Literature on shock advertising as a specialized case of vividness also exists. Future research on vividness might further delineate when, how, and why vividness sometimes enhances and sometimes detracts from persuasion.
Joel Iverson, Tomeka Robinson, and Steven J. Venette
Risk can be defined using a mathematical formula—probability multiplied by consequences. An essential element of risk communication is a focus on messages within organizations. However, many health-related risks such as Ebola extend beyond an individual organization and risk is better understood as a social construction cogenerated within and between systems. Therefore, the process is influenced by systemic and supra-systemic values and predilections. Risk from a structurational perspective allows an understanding of the public as well as organizational responses to risk. Structuration theory provides a useful lens to move beyond seeing organizations as something that flows within an organization to understanding how organizations are enacted through communication. Structuration theory articulates the connections between systems and structures through the action of agents, whose practices produce and reproduce the rules and resources of social life. Within the structuration tradition, organizational communication scholars have shifted to an understanding of the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO). Specifically, one of the theories of CCO is the Four Flows Model. The four flows highlight the ways people enact organizations and provide a means to analyze the various ways communication constitutes organizations. The four flows are membership negotiation, activity coordination, reflexive self-structuring, and institutional positioning. Membership negotiation enacts the inner members and outsiders at a basic level including socialization, identity, and assimilation. Activity coordination produces collective action around a specific goal. Reflexive self-structuring is the decentralized enactment of structures for the organization through the communication of policies. Institutional positioning covers the macro-level actions where people in the organization act as an entity within the environment.
When considering the public reaction to Ebola, a simple way to evaluate risk perception is the intersection of dread and control. The U.S. public considered Ebola a serious risk. From a structuration perspective, the viral nature of twitter, media coverage, and public discussion generated resources for fear to be exacerbated. Structuration theory allows us to position the risk beliefs as rules and resources that are reproduced through discourse. The organizational implications fall primarily into the two flows of institutional positioning and reflexive self-structuring. For institutional positioning, U.S. healthcare organizations faced general public dread and perceived lack of control. Within the United States multiple policies and procedures were changed, thus fulfilling the second flow of organizational self-structuring. The Ebola risk had a significant impact on the communicative constitution of health-care organizations in the United States and beyond. Overall, risk is communicatively constituted, as are organizations. The interplay between risk and health-care organizations is evident through the analysis of American cases of Ebola. Structuration theory provides a means for exploring and understanding the communicative nature of risk and situates that risk within the larger systems of organizations.
Walid A. Afifi
The turn of the 21st century has seen an explosion of frameworks that account for individuals’ decisions to seek or avoid information related to health risks. The four dominant frameworks are Risk Perception Attitude Framework, the Risk Information Seeking and Process model, the Planned Risk Information Seeking Model, and the Theory of Motivated Information Management. A comparison of the constructs within each and an examination of the related empirical tests reveal important insights into (a) factors that have consistently been shown to shape these decisions across these approaches and (b) constructs in need of additional theorizing and empirical testing. Specifically, the analysis suggests that uncertainty, efficacy, affect, risk perceptions, and subjective norms all play crucial roles in accounting for decisions to seek or avoid risk-related information. However, inconsistencies in the direction of influence for uncertainty or information discrepancy, risk perceptions, and negative affect argue for the need for considerably more theoretical clarity and empirical rigor in investigations of the ways in which these experiences shape decision making in these contexts.
Mental models of health risks are the causal beliefs that comprise one’s inference engines for the interpretation and prediction of health and illness experiences and messages. Mental models of health risks can be parsed into a handful of common elements, including beliefs about causes, consequences, and cures as well as identifying information such as symptoms and timing. Mental models research deriving from a risk and decision analysis framework emphasizes exposure sources and pathways as part of causal thinking as well as how interventions may reduce or increase the risk. Mental models can be developed as a function of one’s goals or the problem in a specific context, rather than as coherent, stable knowledge structures in long-term memory. For this reason they can be piecemeal and inconsistent in the absence of expertise or experience with the risk. Derived often by analogy with more familiar risks, mental models of health risks can lead to effective health behaviors but also to costly inaction or misplaced action. Assessing mental models of hazardous processes can contribute to the design of effective risk communications by identifying the concrete information message recipients need to cope with health risks, thereby making or strengthening common-sense links between risk and action representations. Although a wide variety of research methods are used to investigate mental models, achieving this level of specificity requires attention to substantive details. Researchers are beginning to better understand the interactions between mental models of risk and their social, cultural, and physical contexts, but much remains to explore.
Soyoon Kim and Brian G. Southwell
Typical discussion about the success of mediated health communication campaigns focuses on the direct and indirect links between remembered campaign exposure and outcomes; yet, what constitutes information exposure and how it is remembered remain unclearly defined in much health communication research. This problem mainly stems from the complexity of understanding the concept of memory. Prolific discussions about memory have occurred in cognitive psychology in recent decades, particularly owing to advances in neuroimaging technologies. The evolution of memory research—from unitary or dichotomous perspectives to multisystem perspectives—has produced substantial implications for the topics and methods of studying memory. Among the various conceptualizations and types of memory studied, what has been of particular interest to health-communication researchers and practitioners is the notion of “encoded exposure.” Encoded exposure is a form of memory at least retrievable by a potential audience member through a conscious effort to recollect his or her past engagement with any particular unit of campaign content. While other aspects of memory (e.g., non-declarative or implicit memory) are certainly important for communication research, the encoded exposure assessed under a retrieval condition offers a critical point at which to establish the exposure-outcome link for the purpose of campaign design and evaluation. The typical methods to assess encoded exposure include recall and recognition tasks, which can be exercised in various ways depending on retrieval cues provided by a researcher to assess different types and levels of cognitive engagement with exposed information. Given that encoded exposure theoretically relies on minimal memory trace, communication scholars have suggested that recognition-based tasks are more appropriate and efficient indicators of encoded exposure compared to recall-based tasks that require a relatively high degree of current-information salience and accessibility. Understanding the complex nature of memory also has direct implications for the prediction of memory as one of the initial stages of communication effects. Some prominent message-level characteristics (e.g., variability in the structural and content features of a health message) or message recipient-level characteristics (e.g., individual differences in cognitive abilities) might be more or less predictive of different memory systems or information-processing mechanisms. In addition, the environments (e.g., bodily and social contexts) in which people are exposed to and interact with campaign messages affect individual memory. While the effort has already begun, directions for future memory research in health communication call for more attention to sharpening the concept of memory and understanding memory as a unique or combined function of multilevel factors.
Michael L. Hecht and Michelle Miller-Day
Adolescent substance use and abuse has long been the target of public health prevention messages. These messages have adopted a variety of communication strategies, including fear appeals, information campaigns, and social marketing/branding strategies. A case history of keepin’ it REAL, a narrative-based substance abuse prevention intervention that exemplifies a translational research approach, involves theory development testing, formative and evaluation research, dissemination, and assessment of how the intervention is being used in the field by practitioners. The project, which started as an attempt to test the notion that the performance of personal narratives was an effective intervention strategy, has since produced two theories, an approach to implementation science that focused on communication processes, and, of course, a school-based curriculum that is now the most widely disseminated drug prevention program in the world.
At the core of the keepin’ it REAL program are the narratives that tell the story of how young people manage their health successfully through core skills or competencies, such as decision-making, risk assessment, communication, and relationship skills. Narrative forms not only the content of curriculum (e.g., what is taught) but also the pedagogy (e.g., how it is taught). This has enabled the developers to step inside the social worlds of youth from early childhood through young adulthood to describe how young people manage problematic health situations, such as drug offers. This knowledge was motivated by the need to create curricula that recount stories rather than preaching or scaring, that re-story health decisions and behaviors by providing skills that enable people to live healthy, safe, and responsible lives. Spin-offs from the main study have led to investigations of other problematic health situations, such as vaccination decisions and sexual pressure, in order to address crucial public health issues, such as cancer prevention and sex education, through community partnerships with organizations like D.A.R.E. America, 4-H clubs, and Planned Parenthood.
The disruption information seeking and processing (DISP) model is a variation on the risk information seeking and processing (RISP) model. While both the DISP and the original RISP models seek to predict how individuals will search for and attend to information in response to a perceived hazard, DISP aims to broaden analysts’ view of the sorts of information individuals may seek in such situations. It does so by expanding the repertoire of social psychology theory on which the model is constructed to include ideas from the literatures on sensemaking and identity maintenance.
A major argument of DISP is that on many occasions the information that people seek in response to a risk will not be directly related to the risk itself. For example, if you hear a news bulletin on an outbreak of food poisoning associated with ground beef, the next thing you look for may not be information on the risks of E. Coli, but a recipe for chicken. While the observation that people seek non-risk-related information in response to risks is a broad one, the DISP concerns itself with one particularly important aspect of this idea.
Specifically, based on research in the sensemaking and identity maintenance traditions, the DISP model proposes that, for information seekers, the self and the various identities in which individuals are personally invested are often as much the objects in need of interpretation as the hazardous environment. The implication of this is that when faced with a risk, individuals are likely to pay attention not just to information on the risk itself (the sort of information prioritized by RISP), but on the identities impacted by the hazard—for example, how a person’s acceptance of or strategy for coping with the risk might affect her self-image as being a good parent, a conscientious employer, etc.
The DISP also proposes that some hazard situations are likely to be more disruptive to individuals’ sense of self than others—namely instances where the individual has a high vested interest in a particular identity that is challenged by the hazard combined with a low sense of self-efficacy with respect to remediating the hazard. A typical example would be a parent who prides herself on keeping her kids safe, who finds out about an environmental risk to children in her neighborhood, but who cannot afford to move.
According to the DISP model, in such a circumstance the individual would likely become more attuned to information about the countervailing positive aspects of the neighborhood, such as good schools or a low crime rate. These sorts of information, which do not pertain to the risk directly, but are nonetheless sought as a consequence of the risk, exemplify the manner in which DISP seeks to expand the focus of the original RISP model. In the parlance of DISP, the model adds a “self-relevant” information dimension to RISP’s original focus on “risk-relevant” information.
Finally, the DISP model proposes the notion of “norm trumping,” suggesting that individuals experiencing disruption in the face of a hazard—who run afoul of the set of social norms associated with an identity in which they are highly invested—are likely to pay particular attention to self-relevant information that emphasizes alternative sets of norms that help to preserve or reconstitute a desired sense of self.
This model has yet to be tested empirically.
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.
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.
Jessica Gasiorek and R. Kelly Aune
A majority of the extant literature in health and risk message processing focuses—for obvious reasons—on social influence and compliance-gaining. Interpersonal and relational issues with doctors and patients are a secondary focus. In contrast, research that specifically addresses comprehension of health and risk messaging is somewhat scant. However, other domains (e.g., cognitive psychology, reading studies) offer models and studies of comprehension that address message processing more generally. This material can usefully inform research in a health and risk context.
An important aspect of any communicative event is the degree to which that event allows interactivity. This can be described in terms of a continuum from static messaging to dynamic messaging. Message features may affect simple comprehension (in the former case) and active understanding (in the latter case) of messaging along this continuum. For static messaging, text features are the dominant focus; for dynamic messaging, how communicators cooperate, collaborate, and adjust their behavior relative to each other’s knowledge states is the focus. Moderators of these effects, which include sources’ dual goals informing and influencing targets, are also important to consider. Examples of this include direct-to-consumer-advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceutical medicines and pharmaceutical companies, which must meet the demands of the government regulatory bodies (e.g., fair and balanced presentation of benefits and risks) while simultaneously influencing the message processing experience of the target to minimize negative perceptions of their products. Impediments to creating understanding can arise in both the highly interactive setting of the face-to-face doctor-patient context as well as more static messaging situations such as PSAs, pamphlets, and pharmaceutical package inserts.
Making sense of message comprehension in health and risk communication is complex, and it is complex because it is broad in scope. Health and risk communication runs the gamut of static to dynamic messaging, employing everything from widely distributed patient information leaflets and public service announcements, to interactive web pages and massively connected social networking sites, to the highly interactive and personalized face-to-face meeting between doctor and patient. An equally comprehensive theoretical and methodological tool box must be employed to develop a thorough understanding of health and risk communication.