In an ideal world, people would adopt a positive attitude toward a healthy lifestyle as a result of carefully considering relevant and strong arguments. Attitudes based upon such considerations are believed to be stable and good predictors of related behavior, and less vulnerable to counterattitudinal messages. However, carefully evaluating arguments in such messages is difficult. First, people need to identify what information can serve as an argument and construe the argumentative relation between the information and the advocated claim. Next, they need to assess the extent to which the argument satisfies the criteria for a strong argument. What these criteria are depends on the type of argument at hand: an argument from analogy, for instance, should be evaluated with different criteria than an argument from authority. Argument scrutiny thus entails reconstruction, identification, and evaluation. The good news is that even though argument scrutiny is a complex task, it seems that people are pretty well equipped to carry it out. Meta-analyses have shown that messages containing strong arguments are more persuasive than those containing weak arguments. In addition, there is evidence that people are sensitive to what extent a specific argument satisfies relevant criteria when evaluating arguments. The bad news is that people may use these skills not so much to make objective evaluations to reach a better decision, but rather to defend the type of behavior that they already feel they want to perform. That is, they use their argument evaluation skills to reason why the arguments in support of the behavior that they favor are stronger than the arguments against that behavior.
William Mosley-Jensen and Edward Panetta
Health professionals and the public puzzle through new or controversial issues by deploying patterns of reasoning that are found in a variety of social contexts. While particular issues and vocabulary may require field specific training, the patterns of reasoning used by health advocates and authors reflect rhetorical forms found in society at large. The choices made by speakers often impact the types of evidence used in constructing an argument. For scholars interested in issues of policy, attending to the construction of arguments and the dominant cultural modes of reasoning can help expand the understanding of a persuasive argument in a health context. Argumentation scholars have been attentive to the patterns of reasoning for centuries. Deductive and inductive reasoning have been the most widely studied patterns in the disciplines of communication, philosophy, and psychology. The choice of reasoning, from generalization to specific case or from specific case to generalization, is often portrayed as an exclusive one. The classical pattern of deductive reasoning is the syllogism. Since its introduction to the field of communication in 1957, the Toulmin model has been the most impactful device used by critics to map inductive reasoning. Both deductive and inductive modes of argumentative reasoning draw upon implicit, explicit, and affective reasoning. While the traditional study of reasoning focused on the individual choice of a pattern of reasoning to represent a claim, in the last 40 years, there has been increasing attention to social deliberative reasoning in the field of communication. The study of social (public) deliberative reasoning allows argument scholars to trace patterns of argument that explain policy decisions that can, in some cases, exclude some rhetorical voices in public controversies, including matters of health and welfare.
Nathan A. Crick
When John Dewey announced that communication was the most wonderful of all affairs, he recognized the centrality of communication within the tradition of American pragmatism. In other traditions of philosophy, such as idealism or empiricism, communication certainly played a role, but usually it was a secondary function of transmitting ideas from one mind to another. In idealism, ideas were discovered through intuitive revelation of the whole and only later expressed through transcendent eloquence, whereas in empiricism, particular data was attained purely by the senses and communication served a kind of documentary function of fact gathering. Pragmatism, however, inverted this traditional hierarchy. By arguing that the meaning of our ideas was only found in their effects and consequences in experience, particularly those consequences brought about through shared experience, pragmatists made communication both the origin and consummation of knowledge—regardless if that knowledge was practical, scientific, aesthetic, or social. Consequently, pragmatists believed that improving the quality of communication practices was central to improving not only the state of knowledge but the quality of our experience living together in a common world.
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.”
Zazil Reyes García
The growing field of visual rhetoric explores the communicative and persuasive power of the visual artifacts that surround us. This relatively new branch of rhetoric emerged in the late 20th century, disrupting a discipline that was traditionally concerned with the spoken and written word. The artifacts studied through the lens of visual rhetoric comprise visual images and objects that are human created and culturally meaningful. They include two-dimensional images, such as political cartoons and video advertising, and three-dimensional objects such as museums and murals. Visual rhetoric can also include the analysis of embodied performance and thus examine the body as argument. Although much of the scholarship focuses on the power of images in shaping people’s understanding of the world, there is also a recognition of the power of looking. Meaning does not reside in the images around us; we participate in its construction. To better understand visual rhetoric, it is important to review its emergence as an area of study, its definitions, and some of the recurring themes in the scholarship.
Rhetorical judgment is a syncretic term that marries the classical concepts of prudence and rhetoric, and suggests their mutual interdependence. The traditions of rhetoric and prudence have had uneven histories, their legitimacy and utility ebbing and flowing within the dominant strains of Western culture. There are four key moments in histories to help find their points of contact, their disjunctions, and their fickle alliance. The key points of tension in their collaboration occur, first, within the Aristotelian corpus itself, next between Greek and Roman conceptions of social reason, then between the ancient and early modern conceptions of prudence, and finally in the fitful return of interest in both of these classical approaches to social reason in late modernity. Their alliance is actuated most potently when the inherently social dynamism of rhetoric transforms prudence from a virtue into a practice. The capacity for prudence to trade in the contingent circumstance then becomes a powerful political resource. Rhetorical judgment is now realizing this potential as critical theory engages it to redefine the terrain of the political, and to reimagine the contours of a seemingly antiquated body of traditions. The dimensions of power, contingency, and expedience that have always had a place within rhetorical and prudential practices are now finding radical new forms of expression and pointing toward new conceptions of democratic practice.