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Robin L. Nabi
Emotion has been incorporated into media effects research in multiple ways, which can be broadly summarized as considering emotion as a predictor of media selection, an outcome of media exposure, and a mediator of other psychological and behavioral outcomes resulting from media exposure. Specifically, evidence suggests that the desire for particular feeling states influences the media that people choose to consume. Much research also considers the feeling states resulting from exposure, including fright reactions and enjoyment. Finally, there are well-established lines of inquiry into how emotional responses to media influence the processing of those messages in terms of attention, processing depth, and cognitive and behavioral outcomes. More contemporary research is extending these research programs, examining how emotional media messages are socially shared with others as well as the positive emotional effects that may emerge in response to media exposure.
Travis L. Dixon, Kristopher R. Weeks, and Marisa A. Smith
Racial stereotypes flood today’s mass media. Researchers investigate these stereotypes’ prevalence, from news to entertainment. Black and Latino stereotypes draw particular concern, especially because they misrepresent these racial groups. From both psychological and sociological perspectives, these misrepresentations can influence how people view their racial group as well as other groups. Furthermore, a racial group’s lack of representation can also reduce the group’s visibility to the general public. Such is the case for Native Americans and Asian Americans.
Given mass media’s widespread distribution of black and Latino stereotypes, most research on mediated racial portrayals focuses on these two groups. For instance, while black actors and actresses appear often in prime-time televisions shows, black women appear more often in situational comedies than any other genre. Also, when compared to white actors and actresses, television casts blacks in villainous or despicable roles at a higher rate. In advertising, black women often display Eurocentric features, like straight hair. On the other hand, black men are cast as unemployed, athletic, or entertainers. In sports entertainment, journalists emphasize white athletes’ intelligence and black athletes’ athleticism. In music videos, black men appear threatening and sport dark skin tones. These music videos also sexualize black women and tend to emphasize those with light skin tones. News media overrepresent black criminality and exaggerate the notion that blacks belong to the undeserving poor class. Video games tend to portray black characters as either violent outlaws or athletic.
While mass media misrepresent the black population, it tends to both misrepresent and underrepresent the Latino population. When represented in entertainment media, Latinos assume hypersexualized roles and low-occupation jobs. Both news and entertainment media overrepresent Latino criminality. News outlets also overly associate Latino immigration with crime and relate Latino immigration to economic threat. Video games rarely portray Latino characters.
Creators may create stereotypic content or fail to fairly represent racial and ethnic groups for a few reasons. First, the ethnic blame discourse in the United States may influence creators’ conscious and unconscious decision-making processes. This discourse contends that the ethnic and racial minorities are responsible for their own problems. Second, since stereotypes appeal to and are easily processed by large general audiences, the misrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups facilitates revenue generation. This article largely discusses media representations of blacks and Latinos and explains the implications of such portrayals.
Digital technologies are frequently said to have converged. This claim may be made with respect to the technologies themselves or to restructuring of the media industry over time. Innovations that are associated with digitalization (representing analogue signals by binary digits) often emerge in ways that cross the boundaries of earlier industries. When this occurs, technologies may be configured in new ways and the knowledge that supports the development of services and applications becomes complex. In the media industries, the convergence phenomenon has been very rapid, and empirical evidence suggests that the (de)convergence of technologies and industries also needs to be taken into account to understand change in this area. There is a very large literature that seeks to explain why convergence and (de)convergence phenomena occur. Some of this literature looks for economic and market-based explanations on the supply side of the industry, whereas other approaches explore the cultural, social, and political demand side factors that are important in shaping innovation in the digital media sector and the often unexpected pathways that it takes.
Developments in digital media are crucially important because they are becoming a cornerstone of contemporary information societies. The benefits of digital media are often heralded in terms of improved productivity, opportunities to construct multiple identities through social media, new connections between close and distant others, and a new foundation for democracy and political mobilization. The risks associated with these technologies are equally of concern in part because the spread of digital media gives rise to major challenges. Policymakers are tasked with governing these technologies and issues of privacy protection, surveillance, and commercial security as well as ensuring that the skills base is appropriate to the digital media ecology need to be addressed. The complexity of the converged landscape makes it difficult to provide straightforward answers to policy problems. Policy responses also need to be compatible with the cultural, social, political, and economic environments in different countries and regions of the world. This means that these developments must be examined from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and need to be understood in their historical context so as take both continuities and discontinuities in the media industry landscape into account.
Ed S. Tan
Entertainment is fun, and fun is an emotion. What fun is as an emotion, and how it depends on features of entertainment messages and on other emotions, needs to be understood if we want to explain the appeal of entertainment. Entertainment messages such as movies, stories, drama, games, and sports spectacles can move us in a great variety of ways. But characteristic for the use of all genres is a remarkable, intense focus on interacting with the entertainment message and the virtual world it stages. Gamers in action or listeners of radio drama tend to persist in using the message, apparently blind and deaf to any distraction. Persistence is emotion driven. Intrinsic pleasure in what is a playful activity drives this passionate persistence. Enjoyment, interest, or excitement and absorption are the emotions that make entertainees go for more fun in the ongoing use of an entertainment message. In the use of an entertainment message, these go-emotions complement emotional responses to what happens in the world staged by the message. Horror incites fear and disgust, while serious drama elicits sadness and bittersweet feelings. In our conception, go and complementary emotions are immediate effects of the use of entertainment content: I feel excitement and apprehension now, while I am watching this thriller.
Models of distal effects of media entertainment, such as ones on mood, behavior, beliefs, attitudes, and preferences require a proper understanding of immediate emotional responses to concrete messages. The effects of entertainment are only incidental; the emphasis is on immediate emotional experiences in the use of entertainment messages. Immediate emotional responses can be understood and predicted from an analysis of entertainment messages.
Entertainment comes in messages with a characteristic temporal structure. Entertainment emotions develop across the presentation time of the message. Their development can be captured and understood in models of a message’s emotion structure. The emotion structure of a message represents the dynamics of go and complementary emotions across consecutive events, such as story episodes or drama scenes, and within these.
Research into the uses and effects of media entertainment has a long tradition. Immediate emotional responses to mediated entertainment messages have been theorized and researched since the seminal work of Dolf Zillmann in the 1970s. The state of the art in research on the entertainment emotions needs to be discussed—starting with a general model of these, and elaborating it for selected entertainment genres.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
The concept of media literacy has been circulating in the United States and Europe since the beginning of the 20th century as a means to acknowledge the set of knowledge, skills, and habits of mind required for full participation in a contemporary media-saturated society. The concept continues to morph and change as a result of rapid changes in digital media, mass media, social media, popular culture, and society. There are a number of competing approaches to media literacy in the United States and around the world. But the acquisition of digital and media literacy competences cannot be conceptualized merely as a set of technical and operative skills; rather, these competencies are embedded in a process of cultural change.
Empowerment and protection have long been identified as the two overarching themes in the media literacy education community, reflecting a dynamic and generally productive tension between those who see media literacy education as a means to address the harms, risks, and challenges of growing up in a media and technology-saturated cultural environment and those who see media literacy as a tool for personal, social, cultural, and political empowerment. Contributing to these distinctive perspectives is the rise of a community of scholars and practitioners who conceptualize media literacy as an expansion of literacy, which has traditionally been understood as the sharing of meaning through spoken and written language. Media literacy can also be understood as a form of advocacy or as a social movement, aimed in particular at young adults, children, and parents; many see it as a specialized academic field associated with either media studies or education. A set of key concepts and core principles have been developed as a result of increased contact among members of the media literacy community, through national and international conferences and increased publication in academic journals. These concepts emphasize the relationship between authors and audiences, messages and meanings, and representation and reality. Among educational practitioners and scholars, an interest in media literacy pedagogy has developed to explore how critical analyses of media texts, tools, and technologies are integrated into elementary, secondary, and higher education, as well as in libraries, museums, and other informal learning settings. As media literacy has entered the education and cultural system, a number of policy issues have emerged. The rise of media literacy in Europe, led by a mandate from the European Commission, has exacerbated an interest in examining policy issues that either support or limit the implementation of media literacy education in relation to economic development or the preservation of cultural heritage. Today, media literacy initiatives occurs in many nations; it is evident that differences in cultural values, press freedoms, media systems, education structures, education policy, and media technology all shape the specific direction, goals, implementation, and assessment of media literacy initiatives.
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process.
The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions.
In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.
Helle Sjøvaag and Jonas Ohlsson
Media ownership is of interest to research on journalism due to the assumption that ownership can have an impact of the contents and practices of journalism. Ownership of news media take many forms: state ownership, family ownership, party ownership, trust ownership, public or corporate ownership. The main concern with ownership in journalism scholarship is market concentration and monopolization, and the undue effects this may have on media diversity, public opinion formation, democracy and journalistic autonomy. Throughout the research, ownership motivations are assumed to lie with the potential financial and political benefits of owning journalistic media. Benevolence is seldom assumed, as the problematic aspects of ownership are treated both from the management side of the research, and from the critical political economy perspective. News and journalism are largely understood as public goods, the quality of which is often seen as threatened by commercialism and market realities, under the economic aims of owners. However, the many forms and shapes that ownership of news media assume have different impacts on the competition between media outlets, the organization of editorial production, journalistic and professional cultures, and the intensity of corporate and profit maximizing philosophies that journalists work under. Ownership, however, assumes different forms in different media systems.
Content analyses demonstrate continuing improvement in media representations of African Americans. However, research suggests that the progress is uneven across various media and genres, and while underrepresentation and portrayals of blatant stereotypes decline, more subtle stereotypical depictions continue to persist.
Importantly, media representations of race can have consequences for both African-American and White media consumers. Research consistently demonstrates that negative media representations of Blacks have a detrimental effect on Whites’ intergroup attitudes and support for social policies. Positive representations, conversely, have the potential to improve intergroup attitudes. For Black viewers, stereotypical media representations of their own group can pose a psychological threat, whereas sympathetic representations serve as a source of empowerment.
Alexander Sink and Dana Mastro
The media have long been criticized for the manner in which racial and ethnic groups have been (and continue to be) represented in its content. Characterizations of Latinos are no exception. Issues regarding portrayals of Latinos in the media have garnered considerable attention over the decades, prompting the establishment of the National Latino Media Council in 1999. The self-stated mission of this conglomeration of 12 Latino civil rights and advocacy groups has been to increase Latino employment in media industries and reduce the stereotypical depictions that harm Latino communities. If current social scientific evidence is any indication, the objectives of this organization remain as timely and socially important today as they were when the organization was formed. Existing quantitative research concerning the prevalence and quality of portrayals of Latinos in the media, as well as studies examining the effects of exposure to this content, reveal predominately harmful patterns of results (which, of course, depend on the quality and nature of the content). Content analyses that have documented representations of Latinos in media across various platforms conclude that Latinos are underrepresented in the media and frequently presented in stereotypical ways, though blatant stereotypes appear to be declining in the most recent examinations of these portrayals. Empirical investigations into the effects of exposure to these characterizations (on both Latino and non-Latino audiences) demonstrate that media images can influence audience members in terms of numerous cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral outcomes. Importantly (and unsurprisingly), there appear to be substantive differences in how Latino and non-Latino audiences react to such messages. Although many studies of media effects in this context are focused on the harmful implications of exposure (e.g., stereotyping, discrimination, the exacerbation of interethnic tensions), a small body of work also demonstrates that pro-social outcomes can emerge based on media exposure, especially (but not exclusively) in the contexts of health, education, and political decision-making.
In the early days of media studies researchers essentially devoted their attention to the effects of the media message. This has led to a major focus on the choices of single individuals while the analysis of more complex entities and phenomena has often been given secondary importance. This has created a delay in dealing with the aggregate level of system that had already been at the core of sister scientific fields such as political science. From these fields, communication studies has derived many possible directions for a systems approach, in particular a focus on the complex framework of interactions with other systems and their reciprocal influences. Comparative research in particular has gained from the adoption of a systems approach. Nevertheless criticism has not been lacking and has pointed out some major weakness in the systems approach: the difficulty in setting the borders of a system and the risk of underestimating the processes of globalization that makes the identification of media systems with the nation state difficult.
Media technologies are at the heart of media studies in communication and critical cultural studies. They have been studied in too many ways to count and from a wide variety of perspectives. Yet fundamental questions about media technologies—their nature, their scope, their power, and their place within larger social, historical, and cultural processes—are often approached by communication and critical cultural scholars only indirectly. A survey of 20th- and 21st-century approaches to media technologies shows communication and critical cultural scholars working from, for, or against “deterministic” accounts of the relationship between media technologies and social life through “social constructivist” understandings to “networked” accounts where media technologies are seen embedding and embedded within socio-material structures, practices, and processes. Recent work on algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and platforms, together with their manifestations in the products and services of monopolistic corporations like Facebook and Google, has led to new concerns about the totalizing power of digital media over culture and society.
Mediated contact involves exposing audiences to people from other social groups (ethnic, religious, political, etc.) through media. It is an extension of intergroup contact theory, one of the most widely studied and successful prejudice reduction strategies in the social sciences. Mediated contact has effects on explicit and implicit attitudes, as well as physiological responses towards other groups. These effects generally serve to improve intergroup relations in terms of affective, cognitive, and normative outcomes. These outcomes can be understood in terms of a number of psychological processes, which here are synthesized into three thematic headers: Liking, identifying, and learning. Each of these themes taps into existing theoretical areas including parasocial relationships, social identification, and social cognition. Mediated contact has been shown to be effective across a wide variety of study methodologies and contexts, for a wide variety of participants, targeting a wide variety of social out-groups. Although the effects of mediated contact seem to be secondary to face-to-face experience, the fact that many people possess information about groups primarily through media make it an important area of study. While the current media landscape is often less positive and diverse than the ideals of mediated contact, research suggests that positive mediated contact can still have an impact on audiences in both the laboratory and the real world.
Mei-Chen Lin and Paul Haridakis
Individuals’ political membership of and identification with their political parties or ideologies influence how they interact with members of their own group/party (ingroup) and other groups/parties (outgroups). Such sense of “group-ness” (i.e., us-them) motivates people to find ways to posit their group in a positive light (i.e., ingroup favoritism) and engage in attitudes and behaviors that help maintain a desired political group status. These attitudes and behaviors can include a positively biased attitude toward one’s own political group over the other groups, a tendency to seek information that confirms the viewpoints and reflects positive aspects of one’s own political group, or a perception that the media exhibit bias toward their political group. Hence, we can consider political activities, attitudes, and communication (including media use) as inherently intergroup behaviors where members of political groups constantly appraise political discourse and political landscape through an intergroup lens. These intergroup phenomena are particularly salient during election seasons where political group boundaries are erected and political discourses around core ideological beliefs are debated.
Accordingly, it is important to understand better links between intergroup factors (e.g., intergroup attitudes and behaviors), and political media use. This requires: (a) examining how intergroup factors have been considered in political communication research; (b) assessing political media use and effects in a political context, specifically media effects that could potentially be driven by political group identity and political intergroup attitudes; (c) discussing studies that have highlighted intergroup variables in the process of media selection and effects and how we may conceptualize political media research in an intergroup framework; and (d) considering additional intergroup factors that might be relevant and informative to our understanding of political activities and attitudes and media selection and effects in political settings.
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.
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.
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.