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Katherine E. Rowan
Explanations designed to teach, rather than to support scientific claims in scholarly works, are essential in health and risk communication. Patients explain why they think their symptoms warrant medical attention. Clinicians elicit information from patients and explain diagnoses and treatments. Families and friends explain health and risk concerns to one another. In addition, there are websites, brochures, fact sheets, museum exhibits, health fairs, and news stories explaining health and risk to lay audiences. Unfortunately, research on this important discursive goal is less extensive than is research on persuasion, that is, efforts to gain agreement. One problem is that explanation-as-teaching has not been carefully conceptualized. Some confuse this communication goal and discursive type with its frequent verbal and visual features, such as simple wording or diagrams. Others believe explanation-as-teaching does not exist as a distinctive communication goal, maintaining that all communication is solely persuasive: that is, designed to gain agreement.
Explanation-as-teaching is a distinct and important health communication goal. Patient involvement in decision making requires that both clinicians and patients understand options underlying health-care choices. To explore types of explanation-as-teaching, research provides (a) several ways of categorizing health and risk explanations for lay audiences; (b) evidence that certain textual and graphic features overcome predictable confusions, and (c) illustrations of each explanation type. Additionally, explanation types succeed or fail in part because of the social or emotional conditions in which they are presented so it is important to note research on conditions that support patients, families, and clinicians in benefiting from explanations of health and risk complexities and curricula designed to enhance clinicians’ explanatory skill.
Uncertainty regarding the self—about who we are, our place in the world, and our future is typically an unsettling and aversive state. It is a state that we are motivated to reduce in order to gain predictability over events in the world around us. One of the most effective ways of managing uncertainty regarding the self is by seeking group memberships and belonging to groups. Thus, uncertainty reduction can be construed as a drive, such that we join and identify with groups in order to manage uncertainty about and related to the self; this is the core tenet of uncertainty-identity theory, which discusses uncertainty reduction as one of the motives for seeking group memberships.
Previous work in uncertainty-identity theory has shown that when uncertain about the self, individuals seek highly entitative groups to identify with. Such groups are characterized by clear, distinct boundaries—a clear sense of what the group stands for while spelling out who we are versus who we are not. Highly entitative groups have interdependent members and a clear sense of identity that is distinct from those of other groups. According to uncertainty-identity theory, identifying with such groups can reduce self-uncertainty, as individuals can define the self in terms of a clear, distinct prototype and manage uncertainty regarding who they are. Research in uncertainty-identity theory shows that when uncertain, group members perceptually polarize their group away from the outgroup in order to enhance the perceived entitativity and distinctiveness of their group prototype relative to other groups. Thus, the group moves to an extreme and polarized position that is far removed from that of an outgroup with the need to fashion a distinctive identity. The preference for a clearly defined and highly entitative social identity that helps delineate who we are versus who we are not when group members are self-uncertain should increase group members’ vulnerability to ingroup rhetoric that emphasizes the distinctiveness of group boundaries and an us versus them thinking. This is a dangerous trend, especially in the context of intergroup conflict, as influential group members, such as leaders, might seek to mobilize group members by demonizing outgroup members while attributing suffering and unpredictability experienced by ingroup members to the actions of outgroup members. Thus, gaining an understanding of the processes through which the uncertainty of group members is exploited to mobilize support for extreme ideologies might be one way to explain extremism and radical behavior by groups.
Michael A. Hogg and Sucharita Belavadi
The subjective state of uncertainty can be understood as deriving from reduced predictability of and control over events and the world around us. There are different ways to conceptualize the nature of uncertainty, its antecedents and predictors, and the strategies that individuals use to manage & reduce uncertainty within communication science and social psychology.
Prominent theories of uncertainty within communication—uncertainty reduction theory, anxiety/uncertainty management theory, and approaches to uncertainty management—focus on states of uncertainty and lowered predictability within the context of interactive communication with others. In these theories, communication with others plays a central role in the production, maintenance, and management of uncertainty. These three communication-based approaches also differ in the ways in which they conceptualize uncertainty and its management in communicative contexts. Uncertainty reduction theory treats uncertainty as an aversive state that individuals always aim to reduce. In contrast, although anxiety/uncertainty management theory and approaches to uncertainty management discuss uncertainty as an aversive state, they also provide for conditions under which uncertainty might be a desired state.
Within social psychology, the construct of uncertainty has received different treatments. Some approaches have conceptualized the extent of uncertainty experienced and tolerated by individuals as an enduring individual difference or a personality attribute. Social psychologists have also conceptualized uncertainty as an aspect of a person’s identity and self-concept. For instance, uncertainty-identity theory explains uncertainty as a context-invoked aversive state associated with lowered perceived predictability of self and others—uncertainty about who one is, how one should behave, and how one will be treated by others. The theory argues that individuals are motivated to reduce such uncertainty by seeking group memberships, as groups provide a framework for self-definition that helps manage self-conceptual uncertainty.
Michael S. Waltman and Ashely A. Mattheis
Most of the research dealing with hate and hate speech has examined the practices and discourses of hate groups and hate crimes. This work has tended to focus on hate and hate speech directed at African Americans, Jews, and other nonwhites by white supremacist groups. An emerging and growing literature examines hate and hate speech that is used by men to target and harass women. Research in this area has focused on the ways that hate speech produced by organized hate groups and men’s rights activist groups is used to recruit new members, to socialize new members, to radicalize people, and to encourage ethnoviolence. The Internet has had a revolutionizing influence on these groups’ use of hate speech. Additionally, hate novels and “hate music” have played important roles in the recruitment of people into the hate movement and promoted violence against those perceived as enemies of Aryans.
Erin Sahlstein Parcell
The United States military is a frequent point of public conversation since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Approximately two and a half million service members have deployed in the Global War on Terror, and many have completed multiple deployments with almost 7,000 fatalities across operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Communication research on the military has a long history but since 9/11 has picked up pace with scholars seeking to understand the military’s relationship with the media, its discussion in the public sphere, and the interpersonal/familial experiences of service members and their families. The theoretical and methodological approaches are wide ranging within the discipline, but an intergroup perspective is noticeably absent. Many opportunities exist for answering intergroup communication questions, most notably at the military and civilian divide and, in turn, offering insight about and practical suggestions for communication within and about the military.
Given the numerous possibilities for intergroup communication research related to the military, researchers should seize the opportunity to bring new theoretical and methodological approaches to the area. One theory, which has not been used in the intergroup communication scholarship but has great potential for this part of the discipline, is relational dialectics theory. Relational dialectics theory (RDT) is a critical/interpretive theory/method package that explores the substance and form of relational talk with a keen eye for dominant and marginalized discourses. For example, intergroup communication scholars who study the military from an RDT perspective could help illuminate how different groups (e.g., military families and civilian families; same-sex military married couples; and opposite-sex military married couples) understand and construct, for example, their similarities and differences with the goal of improving their interactions. Intergroup communication scholars could use also RDT to study how multiple group-related discourses are present within military groups who have diverse membership (e.g., Family Readiness Groups, FRGs) where members constitute the intersections of several identities (e.g., military wives are simultaneously members of military culture but technically are not military personnel; members are also often simultaneously women, spouses, who, in some cases, are mothers who come from different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, as well as identify as officer or enlisted wives).
Susan J. Drucker and Gary Gumpert
Cities themselves function as media of communication. They are places where messages are created, carried, and exchanged by structures, infrastructures, and people. Urbanity is an age-old phenomenon undergoing radical transformation as developing means of communication redefine traditional notions of place and space. Urban communication meshes population density, technology and social interaction. Urban communication, like urban studies, is an interdisciplinary field that provides a fresh perspective from which to view the city and its transformation. The communication lens offers valuable perspectives and methodologies for the examination of urban and suburban life. It conceptualizes the city as a complex environment of interpersonal interaction, a landscape of spaces and places that shape human behavior, and an intricate technological environment.
The development of urban communication research and activities is traceable from the early works a diverse group of urbanists to more current research programs conducted by communication scholars. Urban communication foregrounds communication in the study of the urban landscape. The unique patterns and needs of urban dwellers and communities are examined in an age where cities are layered with media technologies. An increasing number of technologies enable information from the digital world to be layered onto the physical world through augmented realities, thereby altering the person–environment relationship by creating spaces in which users interact with their physical surroundings through digital media. The future of cities is increasingly influenced by media technology. Cities are global, connected, inclusive, livable, green, sustainable, mega, and smart. Cities have been identified as communicative cities. There are many ways of looking at communication and cities and the history and broad parameters of the growing area of urban communication.
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.
Suellen Hopfer and Genesis Gutierrez
Fundamental structural features of risk maps influence how health risk and burden information is understood. The mapping of health data by medical geographers in the 1800s has evolved into the field of geovisualization and the use of online, geographic information system (GIS) interactive maps. Thematic (statistical) map types provide basic principles for mapping geographic health data. It is important to match the nature of statistical data with map type to minimize the potential for communicating misleading messages. Strategic use of structural map features can facilitate or hinder accurate comprehension of health risk messages in maps. A key challenge remains in designing maps to communicate a clear message given the complexity of modern health risk burdens. Various structural map features such as symbols, color, grouping of statistical data, scale, and legend must be considered for their impact on accurate comprehension and message clarity. Cognitive theory in relationship to map comprehension plays a role, as do insights from research on visualizing uncertainty, future trends in developing predictive mapping tools for public health planning, the use of geo-social and “big data,” as well as data ownership.
Sarah C. Vos and Elisia Cohen
Using pictures (also called images) in health and risk messages increases attention to messages and facilitates increased retention of message content, especially in low-literate populations. In risk communication, researchers have found that pictorial warnings stimulate communication and that images without text can communicate risk information as effectively (or, in some cases, more effectively) than text. However, little empirically based guidance exists for designing images for health and risk messages because most studies use an absence-presence model and compare visual communication to textual communication, rather than compare different types of visual communication. In addition, visual communication theories focus on describing the “how” aspect of communication instead of offering proscriptive guidance for message design. Further complicating the design of visual messages is that the number of possibilities for a visual message is, like text-based messages, almost infinite. Choices include colors, shapes, arrangement, and the inclusion of text, logos, icons, and so on. As a result, best practices on visual messages often draw on design recommendations. Before the widespread advent of Internet use and the adoption of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, using images—especially color images—could be cost prohibitive. However, these online platforms facilitate the distribution of visual content, and many public health organizations use these platforms to distribute visual messages. The need for guidance and research on using pictures effectively is growing. Although there has been increasing focus on images in health messages, many questions still exist about how visual messages should be composed and what their effect is. The existing evidence suggests that visual information can improve persuasive and, on social networking sites, diffusion outcomes. However, visual information may be prone to misinterpretation. Researchers should also evaluate ethical considerations when choosing pictures. Message testing is highly recommended.
Quotations, something that a person says or writes that is then used by someone else in another setting, have long been a staple of news stories. Reporters use quotations—both direct and paraphrased—to document facts, opinions, and emotions from human and institutional sources. From a journalistic standpoint, quotations are beneficial because they add credibility to a news report and allow readers/viewers to consider the source of information when evaluating its usefulness. Quotations are also valued because they are seen as adding a “human” element to a news report by allowing sources to present information in their own words—thus providing an unfiltered first-person perspective that audiences may find more compelling and believable than a detached third-person summary. Research into the effects of news report quotations has documented what journalists long assumed: Quotations, especially direct quotes using the exact words of a speaker, draw the attention of news consumers and are often attended to in news stories more than statistical information. Studies show that the first-person perspective is considered both more vivid and more credible, a phenomenon that newspaper and website designers often capitalize on through the use of graphic elements such as the extracted quote. Quotations in news stories have also been found to serve as a powerful persuasive tool with the ability to influence perception of an issue even in the face of contradictory statistical information. This is especially true when the topic under consideration involves potential risk. Direct quotations from individuals who perceive high levels of risk in a situation can sway audience perceptions, regardless of whether the quoted risk assessments are supported by reality. The power of quotations remains strong in other forms of communication involving risk, such as public service, health-related, or promotional messages. The vivid, first-person nature of quotes draws the attention of audiences and makes the quoted information more likely to be remembered and to influence future judgments regarding the issue in question. This presents the message creator, whether it be a journalist or other type of communicator, with a powerful tool that should be constructed and deployed purposefully in an effort to leave audiences with an accurate perception of the topic under consideration.
A communication style is the way people communicate with others, verbally and nonverbally. It combines both language and nonverbal cues and is the meta-message that dictates how listeners receive and interpret verbal messages. Of the theoretical perspectives proposed to understand cultural variations in communication styles, the most widely cited one is the differentiation between high-context and low-context communication by Edward Hall, in 1976. Low-context communication is used predominantly in individualistic cultures and reflects an analytical thinking style, where most of the attention is given to specific, focal objects independent of the surrounding environment; high-context communication is used predominantly in collectivistic cultures and reflects a holistic thinking style, where the larger context is taken into consideration when evaluating an action or event. In low-context communication, most of the meaning is conveyed in the explicit verbal code, whereas in high-context communication, most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, with very little information given in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. The difference can be further explicated through differences between communication styles that are direct and indirect (whether messages reveal or camouflage the speaker’s true intentions), self-enhancing and self-effacing (whether messages promote or deemphasize positive aspects of the self), and elaborate and understated (whether rich expressions or extensive use of silence, pauses, and understatements characterize the communication). These stylistic differences can be attributed to the different language structures and compositional styles in different cultures, as many studies supporting the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis have shown. These stylistic differences can become, in turn, a major source of misunderstanding, distrust, and conflict in intercultural communication. A case in point is how the interethnic clash between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can be exacerbated by the two diametrically opposite communication patterns they each have, dugri (straight talk) and musayra (to accommodate or “to go along with”). Understanding differences in communication styles and where these differences come from allows us to revise the interpretive frameworks we tend to use to evaluate culturally different others and is a crucial step toward gaining a greater understanding of ourselves and others.
Anthony M. Limperos
Video games are a very popular form of entertainment media and have been the subject of much debate since their meteoric rise to popularity in the 1980s. Similar to the criticisms leveraged against other forms of media, video games have often been scrutinized for their potential to negatively influence those who play them. However, since the beginning of the 21st century, many new genres of video games have emerged and as a result, both public dialogue and research attention have shifted more toward understanding how certain games can be used for prosocial purposes. Exercise-based and active video games (AVGs) are a type of game which requires players to get up and move instead of simply sitting in front of the TV and pushing buttons. These types of games have received a lot of popular press and scholarly attention due to the fact that they encourage movement and may be used as a health intervention tool, especially to combat problems like obesity and overweight. Even though there has been significant research attention focused on the potential health benefits of playing these types of games, there is still much work to be done. While researchers have advanced a general understanding of why certain AVGs are effective or ineffective, there needs to be a greater emphasis on understanding the process by which these games can be motivating and influential. Shedding light on what makes AVGs potentially effective health management and intervention tools will not only be important for motivating people to become more active, but may also help inform research which focuses on how video games may be used in the health domain more generally.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Video-mediated communication (VMC) has a long history. Fictional depictions of variously named VMC systems began appearing in late 19th century illustrations and novels as plausible extensions of telegraphy, telephony, and filmic and televisual moving pictures. AT&T demonstrated experimental one-way combined telephone and television streams in 1927, and the German Post Office had a fully operative public videophone system as early as 1936. However, despite the apparent early progress, VMC has had a surprisingly rocky path to mainstream use—indeed, it might even be argued that VMC is still not the ubiquitous medium one would assume of “the next best thing to being there” (as Julius Molnar said of the AT&T Mod I in the 1960s). Commercial VMC and research have intertwined themes. Changing technologies and difficulties in institutional and domestic commercialization are set against research into the value, form-factors, and member methods for conveying social presence over distance. These issues are as relevant to current VMC as they have ever been, and augmented reality technologies will introduce yet more new opportunities and challenges.
Robert Busching, Johnie J. Allen, and Craig A. Anderson
In our modern age, electronic media usage is prevalent in almost every part of the world. People are more connected than ever before with easy access to highly portable devices (e.g., laptops, smartphones, and tablets) that allow for media consumption at any time of day. Unfortunately, the presence of violence in electronic media content is almost as prevalent as the media itself. Violence can be found in music, television shows, video games, and even YouTube videos. Content analyses have shown that nearly all media contain violence, irrespective of age rating (Linder & Gentile, 2009; Thompson & Haninger, 2001; Thompson, Tepichin, & Haninger, 2006; Yokota & Thompson, 2000). It is therefore important to ask: What are the consequences of pervasive exposure to screen violence? One consequence of media violence exposure, hotly debated by some in the general public, is increased aggressive behavior. This relationship was investigated in many studies using experimental, longitudinal, or cross-sectional design. These studies are summarized in meta-analyses, which support the notion that media violence increase the likelihood of acting aggressively. This link can be explained by an increase in aggressive thoughts, a more hostile perception of the environment, and less empathic reaction to victims of aggressive behavior. However, the often debated notion that media violence allows one to vent off steam, leading to a reduced likelihood of aggressive behavior, has failed to receive empirical support. The effect of media violence is not limited to aggressive behavior; as a consequence of violent media usage attentional problems arise and prosocial behavior decreases.
Helena Sofia Rodrigues and Manuel José Fonseca
In the context of epidemiology, an epidemic is defined as the spread of an infectious disease to a large number of people, in a given population, within a short period of time. When we refer to the marketing field, a message is viral when it is broadly sent and received by the target market through person-to-person transmission. This marketing communication strategy is currently assumed to be an evolution by word of mouth, with the influence of information technologies, and called Viral Marketing. This stated similarity between an epidemic and the viral marketing process is notable yet the critical factors to this communication strategy’s effectiveness remain largely unknown. A literature review specifying some techniques and examples to optimize the use of viral marketing is therefore useful.
Advantages and disadvantages exist to using social networks for the reproduction of viral information. It is very hard to predict whether a campaign becomes viral. However, there are some techniques to improve advertising/marketing communication, which viral campaigns have in common and can be used for producing a better communication campaign overall. It is believed that the mathematical models used in epidemiology could be a good way to model a marketing communication in a specific field. Indeed, an epidemiological model SIR (Susceptible-Infected-Recovered) helps to reveal the effects of a viral marketing strategy. A comparison between the disease parameters and the marketing application, as well as simulations using Matlab software explores the parallelism between a virus and the viral marketing approach.
Marla L. Moon
A visual impairment can affect cognitive, emotional, neurological, and physical development. Visual impairment impairs reading speed and comprehension, and is often mistaken for a learning disability. Learning is accomplished through complex and interrelated processes, one of which is vision. As a result, visual impairments limit the range of experiences and kinds of information to which one is exposed. A reliance on visual cues in health and risk messages intensifies these effects with regard to health information. The millions of children and adults who are affected by visual impairments worldwide thus require specific consideration regarding how best to make health information accessible for them. The reliance on caretakers to address the health information needs of those living with visual impairments violates their privacy and threatens their emotional well-being. Technological and modality advances that rely on touchscreens that lack tactile or auditory cues marginalize a broad segment of society that is in need of gateways to overcome barriers to accommodating visual impairment. In designing strategic health and risk messages, consideration should be given to this scope of possible limitation and its implications for access to and processing of health and risk information. Health and risk message designers should understand both the realities of challenges to accessing information for the visually impaired and strategies for addressing these realities and the scope of the issue worldwide and across the lifespan.
The term security has its origins in the Latin word securitas, which could be translated as “without care” or “without worries.” Security as a concept used in social sciences indicates a specific political condition or social constellation under which an individual, larger group, or state routinely exists without the worry of being physically harmed, attacked, or otherwise injured. In times of crisis, where civil wars threaten the stability and the security of whole regions, where terrorists aim to kill civilians and millions of refugees leave their homes searching for more secure places, it is no wonder that the concept of security has gained much attention and is debated in political and academic circles.
Taking a closer look at the academic debates in political science and communication studies reveals different ontological understandings about what “security” is and a variety of epistemological approaches how to study it. While positivists take security as a fact and an objective condition that can be measured and clearly defined, critical approaches question that security is an objective or given fact. In critical security studies, security and especially insecurity are understood as social and discursive practices. If security and insecurity are not taken as objective facts, but as the result of social constructions, the question arises of how, and under which conditions, security and insecurity are socially constructed and who or what contributes to these discourses in a meaningful way.
While the significance of language for the discursive construction of security is well researched in social sciences, the visual dimension of security discourses has caught particular attention in the last decade in political and communication studies. This has occurred because where, what, and how we see (media reports, pictures of catastrophes and war, street crime, violence, suspects, terrorists etc.) significantly shape our understanding of security and insecurity. Alternatively, or more precisely, security discourse is hard to imagine without reference to some sort of visual communication.
Communication studies and political science (especially the subdiscipline critical security studies, or CSS) have focused on the nexus between visuality and security for many years now—but in interdisciplinary coexistence rather than in exchange. This article intends to bridge this gap between the disciplines by introducing theoretical concepts and paths in literature of both research traditions. In particular, the concept of visual securitization might be an interesting toehold, as it sheds light on the question of how visual communication (media images, television, films, and other media) contribute to the discursive construction of threats, dangers, and insecurities, thereby enabling extraordinary political measures (from public surveillance to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and military interventions) to secure the endangered referent object.
Zazil Reyes García
The growing field of visual rhetoric explores the communicative and persuasive power of the visual artifacts that surround us. This relatively new branch of rhetoric emerged in the late 20th century, disrupting a discipline that was traditionally concerned with the spoken and written word.
The artifacts studied through the lens of visual rhetoric comprise visual images and objects that are human created and culturally meaningful. They include two-dimensional images, such as political cartoons and video advertising, and three-dimensional objects such as museums and murals. Visual rhetoric can also include the analysis of embodied performance and thus examine the body as argument.
Although much of the scholarship focuses on the power of images in shaping people’s understanding of the world, there is also a recognition of the power of looking. Meaning does not reside in the images around us; we participate in its construction. To better understand visual rhetoric, it is important to review its emergence as an area of study, its definitions, and some of the recurring themes in the scholarship.
Visual Rhetoric (VR) is a field of inquiry aiming to analyze all kinds of visual images and texts as rhetorical structures. VR is an offshoot of both visual semiotics, or the study of the meanings of visual signs in cultural contexts; and of the psychology of visual thinking, as opposed to verbal thinking—defined as the capacity to extract meaning from visual images. The basic method of VR, which can be traced back to Roland Barthes’s pivotal 1964 article “The Rhetoric of the Image,” is to unravel to connotative meanings of visual images. The picture of a lion, for instance, can be read at two levels. Denotatively (or literally) it is interpreted as “a large, carnivorous, feline mammal of Africa.” This level conveys informational or referential meaning. But the image of lion in, say, an advertisement or music video invariably triggers a connotative sense—namely, “fierceness, ferociousness, bravery, courage, virility.” The key insight of VR is that connotation is anchored in rhetorical structure, that is, in cognitive-associative processes such as metaphor and allusion, which are imprinted not only in verbal expressions, but also in visual images. So, the image of a lion in, say, a logo design for men’s clothing would bear rhetorical-connotative meaning and affect the way in which the clothing brand is perceived. This same basic approach is applied to all visual expressive artifacts, from traditional visual art works to the design of web pages and comic books. VR is showing that visual objects are rhetorical objects and that, therefore, they can be used to influence and persuade people as effectively as rhetorical oratory, if not more so. Given its simple, yet effective method of analysis, VR is spreading to various disciplines as a technique, including psychology, anthropology, marketing, and graphic design, among many others, affirming how visual images tap into a system of symbolism that is interconnected with other forms of symbolism and representation.
Benjamin King Smith, Martin Ehala, and Howard Giles
Group vitality is a widely invoked construct in the study of minority language maintenance and interethnic relations. Per the original framework introduced 40 years ago, the more vitality an ethnolinguistic group perceives itself to have, the more likely that it will thrive as a collective entity in an intergroup context. Consequently, research adopting this paradigm—herein termed vitality theory—has studied ways in which objective and subjective group vitality has manifested itself in the endurance of ethnolinguistic groups. The notion of objective vitality includes the factors of demographics, institutional support, and status that characterize the strength of a group in comparison to others present in an intergroup setting. Contrastively, subjective vitality was introduced to highlight how groups may cognitively and affectively perceive these same factors.
A large body of empirical research has been conducted within the vitality theory framework that has resulted in several stages of development. Evidence has shown that while the components of objective vitality (demographics, institutional support, status) do not typically manifest themselves as distinct components in the structure of subjective vitality, they do form a single component reflecting the perceived strength of the group. In addition, several other social psychological factors, such as perception of the legitimacy of intergroup relations, the level of ethnocentrism, and perception of intergroup distance, were incorporated into models of subjective vitality. Relatedly, these factors are shaped into group members’ discourse of vitality, which is a highly dialogical process of negotiation of subjective vitality of the groups engaged in intergroup contact.
The vitality framework has been usefully invoked beyond ethnolinguistic groups, embracing several intergroup settings including age, gender, and sexual orientation. Vitality, which has provoked some controversy in the literature, has also been widely adopted by very different approaches as an umbrella term to denote the long-term sustainability of a group. Scholars in linguistics, sociology, psychology, education, anthropology, and beyond have contributed much to the concept, helping to educate and raise awareness as to why languages die out and the effects of such languages dying out.