Self-affirmation theory posits that people are motivated to maintain an adequate sense of self-integrity. It further posits that the self-system is highly flexible such that threats to one domain of the self can be better endured if the global sense of self-integrity is protected and reinforced by self-resources in other, unrelated domains. Health and risk communication messages are often threatening to the self because they convey information that highlights inadequacies in one’s health attitudes and behaviors. This tends to lead to defensive response, particularly among high-risk groups to whom the messages are typically targeted and most relevant. However, self-affirmation theory suggests that such defensive reactions can be effectively reduced if people are provided with opportunities to reinforce their sense of self-integrity in unrelated domains. This hypothesis has generated substantial research in the past two decades.
Empirical evidence so far has provided relatively consistent support for a positive effect of self-affirmation on message acceptance, intention, and behavior. These findings encourage careful consideration of the theoretical and practical implications of self-affirmation theory in the genesis and reduction of defensive response in health and risk communication. At the same time, important gaps and nuances in the literature should be noted, such as the boundary conditions of the effects of self-affirmation, the lack of clarity in the psychological mechanisms underlying the observed effects, and the fact that self-affirmation can be easily implemented in some health communication contexts, but not in others. Moreover, the research program may also benefit from greater attention to variables and questions of more direct interest to communication researchers, such as the role of varying message attributes and audience characteristics, the potential to integrate self-affirmation theory with health communication theories, and the spontaneous occurrence of positive self-affirmation in natural health communication settings.
Slavoj Žižek stands as one of the most influential contemporary philosophical minds, stretching across a wide variety of fields: not just communication and critical/cultural studies, but critical theory, theology, film, popular culture, political theory, aesthetics, and continental theory. He has been the subject (and object) of several documentaries, become the source of a “human megaphone” during Occupy Wall Street, and become, while still living, the subject of his own academic journal (the International Journal of Žižek Studies). Žižek’s theoretical claim to fame, aside from his actual claim to fame as a minor “celebrity philosopher,” is that he weaves together innovative interpretations of G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Jacques Lacan to comment on a variety of subjects, from quantum physics to Alfred Hitchcock films to CIA torture sites. While there are as many “Žižeks” as there are philosophical problem-spaces, Žižek proposes an essential unity within his project; in his work, the triad Hegel-Marx-Lacan holds together like a Brunnian link—each link in the chain is essential for his project to function. Further, his intentionally provocative work acts as a counterweight to what he views as the dominant trends of philosophy and political theory since the 1980s—postmodernism, anti-foundationalism, deconstruction, vitalism, ethics, and, more recently, speculative realism and object-oriented ontology.
The spiral of silence theory provides insight into the ways in which perceptions of public opinion can lead to changes in opinion expression behavior. Conceptualized in a political communication context, the central claim of the theory is that individuals’ fear of social isolation motivates them to continuously evaluate the climate of opinion through both experiences with the media and interpersonal communication. Upon assessment, individuals either find themselves in a situation where their opinion aligns with the majority or minority. Accordingly, those who find their opinion does not align with the dominant opinion are likely to conceal their opinions while those who find their opinion aligns with the majority are more likely to express them.
Empirical research testing the spiral of silence theory has predominately focused on measurement of focal variables and methods of empirical testing. Advances have been made in regard to micro-level factors, such as creating universally applicable measures of psychological attributes. However, limited work has explored macro-level factors, such as appropriateness of issues, application to computer-mediated communication environments, and tools used to identify circumstances vulnerable to spiral of silence effects. Nonetheless, the practical value of the spiral of silence theory for health and risk communicators can be utilized by modifying campaign efforts to anticipate and counteract fluxes in public opinion.
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.
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.
Catherine Chaput and Joshua S. Hanan
Depending on how you approach it, economic justice is either an extremely old intellectual tradition or a relatively new one. From the first perspective, economic justice is part and parcel of classical political philosophy—Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s The Politics, for instance, both discuss property distribution in an ideal society, emphasizing the philosophy of justice over economic precepts. From the second perspective, the one we embrace, economic justice is a uniquely modern inquiry that emerged with the writings of Karl Marx and his revolutionary critique of the capitalist political economy. For Marx, economic justice can be understood as a critical enterprise that attempts to locate contradictions between universal and particular conceptions of human freedom and intervene politically into these contradictions with the aim of creating a more just, equitable, and egalitarian society. So conceived, economic justice liberates the collective potential of humanity from its exploitation and degradation by capitalism as well as the various legal institutions it develops to control human behavior for the purpose of extracting of surplus-value. It is this Marxist perspective and the various historical reformulations that it has authorized that influence the way rhetoricians and scholars of cultural studies conceptualize economic justice in the discipline of communication. While not all of these scholars endorse an explicitly Marxist line of thought, they all attempt to conceptualize economic justice as a normative political category that influences various models of rhetorical agency and social change.
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.
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.
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.