Hope has been defined in primarily two ways, and both have implications for message design within health and risk communication. First, hope has been defined as a way of thinking, or disposition, that affects how people pursue goals. Dispositional hope manifests in beliefs about one’s capacity to initiate and sustain action toward goals (agency) and one’s ability to generate ways to reach those goals. Dispositional hope has been associated with positive physical and mental health outcomes. For example, high-hope women have greater intentions to engage in cancer prevention behaviors than do low-hope women. Numerous studies have associated higher hope with better pain management, and people who are higher in hope have a greater pain tolerance than people lower in hope. Hope is also related to better psychological adjustment.
Much of the research on dispositional hope focuses on correlating hope with a variety of positive health and non-health outcomes; however, psychotherapeutic interventions have also been designed to increase dispositional hope. These interventions have shown improvements in health-related outcomes. Although their potential is not yet realized, interventions for developing dispositional hope could improve compliance with medical recommendations, increase adoption of health behaviors, and decrease risk behaviors.
The second way that hope has been defined is as a discrete emotion. Discrete emotions are brief, intense, psychological, and evaluative reactions directed at external stimuli (e.g., people, events, or objects). In response to these external stimuli, emotions help individuals adapt to their environment by activating a unique pattern of thoughts (cognitions), physiological changes, subjective feelings, motor expressions, and action (or behavioral) tendencies.
Lazarus’s cognitive-mediational theory has been one of the most influential theories of discrete emotions that includes a definition of hope. Lazarus identifies the core relational theme of hope as “fearing the worst but yearning for better.” Lazarus deems hope to be a problematic emotion because he believes hope contains both positive and negative elements. Despite uncertainty about the exact nature of hope, Lazarus believes that hope is vital to coping with stress. Hope enables people to believe in the possibility of better circumstances and therefore is critical as a coping mechanism against despair. Lazarus does not provide guidance for what a message might need to include to evoke hope.
Drawing on Lazarus and appraisal theories in general, MacInnis and de Mello suggest tactics that consumer marketing advertisements could use to induce hope. Specifically, the authors focus on turning “impossibility into possibility” and enhancing “yearning.” De Mello and MacInnis also theorize that hope can lead to motivated processing of information resulting in both positive (e.g., coping, well-being, and goal achievement) and negative (e.g., risky behavior, self-deception) outcomes. Unfortunately, the theorizing of de Mello and MacInnis was never empirically tested.
To further explore how feelings of hope are created, Prestin examined underdog narratives in entertainment media. Underdog narratives show characters who are attempting to meet a goal despite unfavorable circumstances and odds. These narratives evoke hope and make people more motivated to meet their own personal goals. Although their potential has not been fully explored, underdog narratives may assist individuals in overcoming challenging circumstances, such as battling addiction or developing new health habits. There are numerous mechanisms still to be examined that may explain the effects of underdog narratives beyond their ability to evoke hope.
Recently, Chadwick defined hope as a future-oriented, discrete emotion that focuses on an opportunity to achieve a desired future outcome. Her definition builds on the work of Lazarus and Roseman and has implications for the design of messages that evoke hope. According to Chadwick, hope is evoked by appraisals of a future outcome as (a) consistent with goals (goal congruence), (b) possible but not certain (possibility), (c) important (importance), and (d) leading to a better future (future expectation). All four of these appraisals combine to create a perception of opportunity and the discrete emotion hope. Hope motivates behavior by focusing one’s thoughts on capitalizing on an opportunity. Chadwick states that hope also involves (a) an approach action tendency that motivates individuals to take, or continue, action to achieve the desired outcome, (b) increased heart rate and skin conductance, (c) an open facial expression, heightened focus, and alert body posture, and (d) a feeling of eager attention.
Chadwick’s definition has clear implications for developing messages that evoke hope. Messages designed to create appraisals of the importance, goal congruence, positive future expectation, and possibility of a future event evoke hope and are called hope appeals. Like other theoretical explications of emotional appeals, a hope appeal has two components: (a) the inducement of hope through the presentation of an opportunity and (b) the presentation of recommended actions to achieve the desired outcome. The recommended actions component includes information designed to (a) increase the receiver’s perception of his or her ability to perform the recommended action (i.e., self-efficacy) and (b) demonstrate the ability of the recommended actions to achieve the desired outcome (i.e., response efficacy).
Empirically, scholars have tested the effects of hope and messages that evoke hope. Hope appeals increase attention to messages about climate change and increase mitigation behavioral intention and mitigation behavior. In addition, feelings of hope increase interest in climate change protection and are positively correlated with pro-environmental behaviors and support for climate change policies. Feelings of hope significantly predict interest in climate protection, self-efficacy, interpersonal communication intention, information seeking intention, and behavioral intention. Hope and hopeful narratives have also been associated with greater perceived message effectiveness and more agreement with the message content. After a stressful experience that accelerates heart rate, evoking hope decelerates heart rate and decreases state anxiety. This research provides evidence that messages that evoke hope can counter the psychological and physiological effects of stressful events. In addition, researchers have examined the effects of hope on a variety of health, persuasion, political communication, and marketing outcomes. Preliminary evidence indicates that hope appeals are equally as or more effective than guilt and fear appeals at increasing interpersonal communication intention, self-efficacy, information seeking intention, and behavioral intention. In addition, hope appeals create less reactance (anger) than fear appeals. Together these results indicate that hope and hope appeals have substantial potential to influence health and risk behavior.