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Article

The understandings about age—the values and assumptions placed upon age and aging persons—mark a culturally and politically constructed discourse. For LGBTQ populations, aging is mapped with a unique set of stories, scripts, and narratives that work to frame and constrain how they are trained to see, read, and assign meanings. Coupled with scripts and myths that work to define the process and experience of LGBTQ aging—what it is to be an “older,” “younger,” or “aging” queer—is the cultural scripting of the queer future (i.e., “What’s ahead?” “What do you expect from your life?” “What is to come?”). As a communicative process and a symbolic construction, no one knows what the future is or what one’s future will be. Yet, the queer future has historically been scripted in mainstream discourses (film, literature, religion, and cultural mythology) as a space of pain, loss, and tragedy—“a harder path” equated with sadness, turmoil, and punishment. Cautionary tales of the dirty old man, the sad pathetic fool, the invisible spinster, the lesbian vampire, and the queer monster are recurring themes that work to denigrate aging queer lives and shore up the story of heteronormative correctness. This cultural script works to frame how mainstream culture understands LGBTQ populations but also frames and constrains how LGBTQ populations might view themselves, understand their future and aging bodies, and shape their investment in health, self-care, and longevity. The cultural scripts perpetuated in media and discourse, however, do not so easily line up with social science research on queer populations. Examining the meaning-making dimensions of gay aging and future offers an interdisciplinary approach that brings together sociology, gerontology, performance studies, and media criticism with the field of human communication.

Article

In the last 20 years or so, the field of intergenerational communication as seen from an intergroup perspective has evolved to encompass a wide range of social, cultural, and relational contexts. Research into communication and age in organizations represents one particularly exciting and rapidly changing area of investigation within the intergenerational communication domain. The workplace, by its very nature, is rich with intergroup dynamics, with age in/out group distinctions being but one of many intergroup characterizations. Stereotypical age expectations—by management and coworkers alike—can serve as powerful harbingers to behavioral outcomes such as ageist communication, considerations of (early) retirement and reduced and/or lost training among older workers, and even reduced intentions among young individuals to take up careers involving older people. Ageist behaviors (including communication) are also at the core of many types of discriminatory practices toward older (and sometimes younger) workers. Age diversity strategies, which include intergenerational contact programs, cross-generational mentoring, age diverse teams, and the use of positive symbols of older age, are becoming more common in organizations.

Article

Robert M. McCann

Research into age and culture strongly suggests that people of different adult generations, regardless of culture, typically regard others and act in ways that display bias in favor of one’s own age group. While people across cultures share some basic patterns of aging perceptions, there is considerable variance in views on older people from one country to the next. Over the past two decades, the tenor of communication and aging research has shifted dramatically. Traditional research into aging across cultures painted a picture of Asia as a sort of communicative oasis for elders, who were revered and communicated to by the younger generations in a respectful and mutually pleasing manner. Compelling evidence now suggests the opposite, which is that (interregion variability in results notwithstanding) elder denigration may be more pronounced in Eastern than Western cultures. Accelerated population aging, rural-to-urban shifts in migration, new technologies, rapid industrialization, and the erosion of cultural traditions such as filial piety, may partially account for these results. Additionally, there are well-established links between communication and the mental health of older people. Specifically, communication accommodation in all of its forms (e.g., over accommodation, nonaccommodation, accommodation) holds great promise as a core predictor of a range of mental health outcomes for older people across cultures.

Article

Before health and risk messaging can have the best possible effect, there needs to be an understanding of what might influence health and associated risky behaviors. A wide range of elements needs to be considered, given the many possible influences on health habits and risky exposures. Since “ecology” is defined as the relationship between organisms and their environments, ecological models enable this consideration to be made. As a result ecological approaches have been widely used in health behavior, health planning, and health education. Ecological theory, with a communication focus, has also been developed, emerging specifically from the field of “information behavior.” Grounded in the work of Bronfenbrenner, on the experimental ecology of human development, the theory grew out of a study of older adults’ information and communication needs and uses, undertaken in the 1990s. The ecological model, as developed, enabled a wide range of personal and social influences on information seeking and communication to be explored with people aged 60 and older. Analysis of the impact of multilevel factors is facilitated by an ecological approach, increasing its value for the task of designing the content of health and risk messages. The “how” of designing health messaging is not addressed specifically by this approach. Following the study of older adults, the ecological model was broadened, modified, and applied to the study of the information and communication behavior of different community groups, involving a range of topics. The flexibility of the approach is a key strength. A study of information seeking, by women with breast cancer, indicated that several “ecological” elements, such as age, ethnicity, and stage of disease, played a part in the type of information sought and in preferences for how information was communicated. Health and risk avoidance implications emerged from a study of information seeking for online investment, providing another good example of the ways in which the model can be adapted. A range of ecological factors were shown to influence investing behavior, including level of risk taking. A study of people in the Fourth Age (the last stage of life) resulted in a further refined and extended model, as well as making a contribution to the already substantial body of accumulated gerontological knowledge.

Article

Group memberships provide a system of orientation for self-definition and self-reference in the process of relating to and managing social distance with others, and the use of language and communication serve central roles in the processes. In the nearly four decades since its inception as speech accommodation theory, communication accommodation theory has been used in multidisciplinary, multilingual, and multicultural contexts for understanding when, how, and why we, as speakers, accommodate to each other’s languages and styles of communication. In CAT’s theoretical domain, accommodation refers to the ability, willingness, and strategies to adjust, modify, or regulate individuals’ language use and communication behaviors. Specifically, approximation strategies such as convergence, divergence, maintenance, and complementarity are conceptualized in the earlier developmental stages of CAT, with other strategies such as interpretability, discourse management, and interpersonal control added to the list at later stages. With its strong intergroup features, CAT is a robust theory that offers explicit motivational analysis to account for intergroup communication behaviors and intergroup relations. Blossomed initially in a multilingual and multicultural context in Quebec, Canada in the 1970s, CAT connects well with other existing theories on cultural adaptation, intergroup contact, and intergroup relations. Yet, CAT distinguishes itself from other theories as it attends to the interactive communication acts and processes and relates them to other sociocultural constructs, while interpreting and predicting the social, relational, and identity outcomes.

Article

Age discrimination, long habitual internationally, is now developing into age panic as longevity becomes the norm. People are increasingly living through their 80s and 90s, threatening social systems—not just health care, but also education, transportation, and economics. A by-product of longevity is Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia more broadly, and this the focus of our essay. Five million people in the United States (the greater part women) currently have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the figure is projected to grow exponentially as the baby boom generation ages. Fear, and other powerful affects, are generated in the aging Eurocentric public through overwhelmingly negative images of dementia. Prominent circulating AD images portray white, middle-class women and men; they are typically cared for by heroic family members, with the occasional, backgrounded appearances of racialized care workers. Such discourses betray a noticeable ageism, together with gendering, racialization, and medicalization of the illness. The reification of neuroscience studies of AD perpetuates understanding of AD subjects as having lost their subjectivity and as a burden to health-care systems. As the politics of care becomes ever more fraught with the increase in numbers of diagnosed elderly people, media discourses take on particular significance. Largely negative, images have obvious implications for long-term care in discourse and in practice. Since improving care depends on how the AD subject is visualized and conceptualized, critical analyses of works dealing with age panic, and especially how it arises in relation to cultural understandings of dementia, are essential. Critiques by humanists and psychologists may contribute to improving care of AD subjects, both in long-term facilities and “in place.” Improved care can contribute to transforming the popular understanding of a dementia crisis, thus addressing the central impetus of age panic. Meanwhile, new films, fiction, memoirs, and graphic arts projects are powerful complements to psychological studies aimed at developing new ways of seeing AD subjects.

Article

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes between socially disadvantaged and advantaged groups. This essay provides a brief review of the voluminous literature on health disparities, with a focus on several major threads including populations of interest, incidence and prevalence of morbidity and mortality, determinants of health, health literacy and health information seeking, media influences on health disparities, and efforts to reduce disparities. Populations of interest tend to be defined primarily by socioeconomic status (income/education), race, ethnicity, and sex or gender; however, differences in sexual orientation, immigrant status, geography, and physical and mental disability are also of concern. Determinants of health can be categorized along a number of dimensions, but common designations consider behavioral, social, and environmental factors that lead to health disparities, as well as differences in access to health care and health services. Of central interest to communication researchers, differences in health literacy and health information seeking are revealed between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. Media influences involve the effects of access or exposure to different kinds of health information on the health behavior and health outcomes of different groups, as well as the effects of health disparity media coverage on public support for initiatives to reduce health disparities. Efforts to reduce health disparities are extensive and involve government and foundation efforts and research-driven interventions. Taking a broader view, this essay briefly discusses trends in scholarship on health disparities, noting the precipitous increase in academic journal article publications on the topic, including the publication of journals specifically focused on publishing health disparities scholarship. Future directions for research are suggested, and recommendations for interventions to improve health disparities offered by the Principal Investigators of the 10 Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities are presented. Finally, an annotated list of primary sources (books, special issues of journals, reports) and a list of sources for further reading are offered to provide a starting point for beginning scholars to orient themselves to research in health disparities.

Article

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.

Article

Carla L. Fisher and Thomas Roccotagliata

From birth to death, our interactions with others are what inform our identity and give meaning to life. Ultimately, it is interpersonal communication that is the bedrock of wellness. Much of the scholarship on interpersonal communication places communication in the background, characterized merely as a resource, symptom, or contributing factor to change. In the study of our interpersonal experiences, communication must be at the forefront. As a pragmatic lens concerned with real-world issues, a life-span perspective of interpersonal scholarship provides boundless opportunities for bridging science and practice in meaningful ways that improve social life on multiple levels, from families to schools to government to hospitals. Interpersonal communication research that is concerned with life-span issues tends to prioritize communicative phenomena and bring the communication dynamics of our relational lives to the surface. Typically, this scholarship is organized around the various stages or phases of life. In other words, researchers concerned with interpersonal communication often contextualize this behavior based on dimensions of human development and life changes we typically encounter across the life course, those major life experiences from birth to death. Much of that scholarship also centers on how we develop competence in communication across time or how communication competence is critical to our ability to attain relational satisfaction as well as a high psychological and physical quality of life. This research also highlights the influential role of age, human development, and generational differences, recognizing that our place in the life span impacts our goals and needs and that our sociocultural-historical experiences also inform our communication preferences. A life-span perspective of interpersonal communication also encompasses various theoretical paradigms that have been developed within and outside the communication discipline. Collectively, this scholarship helps illustrate the communicative nature of human life across the entire life trajectory.

Article

At the heart of cancer communication research is an effort both to increase knowledge and to identify practical strategies for improving cancer communication and for improving prevention and control of cancer, as well as for addressing cancer care issues from theoretical and applied communication perspectives across the continuum of cancer care. One important theoretical approach to consider in cancer communication science is taking an intergroup approach to cancer care. The challenge moving forward is to develop cancer communication research programs that combine important theoretical and applied perspectives, focusing on prevention strategies that can help reduce cancer risk, incidence, morbidity, and mortality, and to promote the highest quality of life for people of every age and every background.

Article

Death is inevitable: We witness the death of others and eventually face our own. However, people in general view death as taboo and tend to avoid discussing their own or others’ mortality. A cultural shift has been taking place in the developed world so that dying has become an increasingly medicalized process, where death is viewed as something to be stopped or delayed instead of accepted as part of a natural life cycle. As family members are less responsible for the dying process, communication about death and dying becomes a sensitive topic and is often ignored or avoided. Lack of this meaningful communication can lead to stereotypes about the dying person, conflict among family members, and fear of death. Talking about death and dying, if done correctly, can have a positive impact on health-care delivery and the bereavement process. Incorporating knowledge of intergroup communication with a lifespan approach can deepen communication effectiveness about death and dying. People’s group identities can play important roles in the conversation about death and dying. As children and adolescents, people can encounter the death of older family members (e.g., grandparents) and the communication here can be intergenerational. Due to age differences, younger adults may feel uncomfortable to react to older adults’ painful disclosure of death and the bereavement process. During adulthood, people deal with the death uncertainty for themselves and their loved ones. The communication in this period can be intergenerational and inter-occupational, especially when there are third parties involved (e.g., medical providers or legal authorities). Death and dying communication tend to happen mostly, albeit not always, during the later lifespan, as time of death approaches, among older adults, family members, and medical providers. These conversations include advanced care planning (i.e., arrangements and plans about the dying process and after death), medical decision making, palliative care, and final talks. Increasing the awareness of death and dying can help to normalize the dying process.

Article

The rejection of coming out as a linear narrative must be accompanied by an alternative to the formulas of confession, disclosure, and identity adoption that have pervaded the current representations of coming out in the West. The appearance of coming out in film narratives provides important opportunities to observe how elements such as repetition, rehearsal, and, above all, contrasts are incorporated into the stories that are recounted. Conventional coming-out films have relied so heavily on the restrictive nature of the genre’s narrative structure that the potential for alternative, or queered, realities of coming out is erased. The continual reappearance and adaptations of coming out will enable a better understanding of the ways in which the act is presented as a moment that is never finished and that often evades a final, perfected, and polished performance. Four specific narratives from queer film—Beautiful Thing (1996), Summer Storm(2004), Brotherhood (2009), and North Sea Texas (2011)—will be presented to offer counter models for coming out. In Beautiful Thing, the visual narrative demonstrates the importance of the reiterative, adaptable, and unanticipated representation of the act in visual media. In Summer Storm, the audience witnesses how coming out occurs in a world of competitive sports and where the teenage athletes reveal secrets that everyone already knows. In Brotherhood, the act of coming out is transformed into a moment when identities are instantaneously accepted and rejected within a homophobic, neo-Nazi subculture. In North Sea Texas, the script of coming out is reimagined by two characters who ambiguously decline any opportunity to define their identities. Coming out in visual narratives must be understood through an elaboration of Janet Harbord’s belief that the audience gravitates toward particular visual narratives where a comfort zone is created. These films have authored reiterative and adaptable approaches to the act of coming out that both comfort and challenge the audience.