Exemplification Theory in Health and Risk Messaging
- Patric R. Spence, Patric R. SpenceNicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida
- David WestermanDavid WestermanDepartment of Communication, North Dakota State University
- and Robert G. RiceRobert G. RiceCollege of Communication and Information, University of Kentucky
Humans often prefer representations that are cognitively easier to store, and such representations are easier to retrieve later to make judgments about the social world. Exemplification theory draws on physiological memory mechanisms and argues that simple, iconic, concrete, and emotionally arousing depictions of events (exemplars) are favored and thus more likely to be stored and used than are abstract, inconsequential depictions or representations. Inconsequential information or representations are forgotten because they are not processed as being essential for survival. Exemplified events vary on a continuum of how accurately they represent a larger occurrence of events. Through specific uses of pictures, quotes and other depictive strategies, concrete, iconic, and emotionally arousing information is often added to a story. Research has documented the strength of specific exemplars in creating inaccurate estimations of events and perceptions of severity and susceptibility. Moreover, in the presence of a risk, portrayals with exemplars have been shown to motivate individuals to intend to change behavior. Exemplification is a strong theory that is understudied and underutilized. The theory has strong explanatory, predictive, and organizing power, and it has application to phenomena in contexts such as media effects, persuasion, crisis and risk communication, health communication and public relations.