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.
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).
Metaphor equates two concepts or domains of concepts in an A is B form, such that a comparison is implied between the two parts leading to a transfer of features typically associated with B (called source) to A (called target). Metaphor is evident in written, spoken, gestural, and pictorial modalities. It is also present as latent patterns of thought in the form of conceptual mappings between domains of experience called conceptual metaphor. Metaphor is found commonly in a variety of health and risk communication contexts, including public discourse, public understanding and perceptions, medical encounters, and clinical assessment. Often metaphor use is beneficial to achieving desired message effects; however, sometimes its use in a message can lead to unintended undesirable effects. There is a general consensus, although not complete agreement, that metaphors in messages are processed through engagement with corresponding conceptual mappings. This matching process can be taken as a general principle for design of metaphor-based health and risk messages.
Jennifer A. Malkowski, J. Blake Scott, and Lisa Keränen
Rhetoric, commonly understood as the art, practice, and analysis of persuasion, has longstanding connections to medicine and health. Rhetorical scholars, or rhetoricians, have increasingly applied rhetorical theories, concepts, and methods to the texts, contexts, discourses, practices, materials, and digital and visual artifacts related to health and medicine. As an emerging interdisciplinary subfield, the rhetoric of health and medicine seeks to uncover how symbolic patterns shape thought and action in health and medical texts, discourses, settings, and materials.
In practice, rhetoricians who study health and medicine draw from the standard modes of rhetorical analysis, such as rhetorical criticism and rhetorical historiography, as well as from social science methods—including participant observation, interviewing, content analysis, and visual mapping—in order to deepen understanding of how language functions across health and medical objects, issues, and discussions. The objects of analysis for rhetorical studies of health and medicine span medical research, education, and clinical practice from laboratory notes to provider–patient interaction; health policymaking and practice from draft policies through standards of care; public health texts and artifacts; consumer health practices and patient advocacy on- and offline; public discourses about disease, death, bodies, illness, wellness, and health; online and digital health information; popular entertainments and medical dramas; and alternative and complementary medicine. Despite its methodological breadth, rhetorical approaches to science and medicine consistently involve the systematic examination and production of symbolic exchanges occurring across interactional, institutional, and public contexts to determine how individuals and groups create knowledge, meanings, identities, understandings, and courses of action about health and illness.
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.