Grandparents and grandchildren report their relationships with one another are meaningful in many respects, including having the opportunities to exchange affection, receive support, and learn new things from one another. Since 2000, theoretically grounded communication research on grandparent–grandchild (GP–GC) relationships has notably increased. This research has been largely centered in three theoretical domains: research using affection exchange theory (AET), communication accommodation theory (CAT), and communication theory of identity (CTI). AET is a bioevolutionary theory that holds that giving and receiving affectionate communication help facilitate viability and fertility. Consistent with this theory, grandparents have reported better mental health when they express more affectionate communication for their grandchildren, and grandchildren have reported better mental health when they receive more affectionate communication from their grandparents. Researchers can advance the study of GP–GC affectionate communication in the future by examining if affectionate communication is indirectly associated with health outcomes via certain indices of relational solidarity (e.g., shared family identity, relational closeness, perceived availability of social support). CAT is an intergroup and interpersonal communication theory that describes the adjustments speakers make during interaction, as well as the ramifications of those adjustments for receivers. Receivers might interpret a speaker as overaccommodating them (i.e., going too far in the adjustment necessary for appropriate interaction, such as patronizing talk) or underaccommodating them (i.e., not going far enough in the adjustment necessary for appropriate interaction, such as engaging in painful self-disclosures). When grandchildren receive more overaccommodation and underaccommodation from their grandparents, they report more negative prejudicial attitudes toward older adults as a whole. Future researchers should examine how perceptions of accommodation and nonaccommodation in GP–GC relationships are associated with other types of prejudice, such as religious prejudice. Finally, the CTI posits that people hold four frames of identity: personal identity (how people internally view themselves), enacted identity (how people behave or perform their identity), relational identity (how people perceive that their relational partners view them and how people define themselves as in relationships with others), and communal identity (how large social collectives are broadly defined, such as in the mass media). These identity frames can contradict one another, creating identity gaps. Both grandchildren’s and grandparents’ identity gaps (personal-relational and personal-enacted identity gaps) have been indirectly associated with lower intentions on the part of grandchildren to provide care for their grandparents via grandchildren’s reduced communication satisfaction. Future researchers would be well served to examine identity gaps between three or four frames of identity. In sum, many insights have been generated by GP–GC communication research informed by these three theories, and there are numerous ways to continue these lines of research in the future.
Aging Grandparents and Grandchildren and Communication
Family Relationships and Interactions: An Intergroup Approach
Families are not immune from intergroup processes that pervade other social relationships and institutions in society. Family relationships are often constituted by individuals with different identities and worldviews, especially when considering the changing landscape of families (e.g., multiethnic–multiracial families, interfaith families). Moreover, many of our most personal relationships emerge from the joining of two distinct familial groups (e.g., in-laws, stepfamily members). Whether considering different social identities salient in family interactions (e.g., ethnicity-race, age, political affiliation) or formative dynamics as families merge, intergroup communication processes are central to managing difference in a constructive manner that facilitates development of a shared family identity and individual well-being. Further, an intergroup perspective on family highlights the manner in which families directly and indirectly socialize family members’ intergroup attitudes and worldviews.
Death and Dying: An Intergroup Communication Approach
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.
Contextual Theory of Interethnic Communication
Young Yun Kim
The contextual theory of interethnic communication is an interdisciplinary theory that provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary account of the associative and dissociative communication behaviors of individual communicators when interacting with ethnically dissimilar others. Integrating a wide range of salient issues, concepts, theories, and related research findings across disciplinary lines of inquiry across social sciences, the theory offers a multidimensional and multifaceted model explaining a full spectrum of interethnic decoding and encoding communication behaviors from highly dissociative to highly associative. Grounded in an open-systems perspective, the interethnic behavior and the context surrounding the behavior are conceived as co-constituting the basic interethnic communication system, operating simultaneously in a dynamic interplay. In varying degrees of salience and significance, all contextual forces are regarded in Kim’s theory to operate in any given interethnic communication event, potentially influencing, and being influenced by the nature of individual communication behaviors of association and dissociation. The theory identifies eight key contextual factors of the communicator (identity inclusivity/exclusivity and identity security/insecurity), the situation (ethnic proximity/distance, shared/separate goal structure, and personal network integration), and the environment (institutional equity/inequity, relative ingroup strength, and environmental stress). Eight theorems are proposed for empirical tests, linking each contextual factor with associative/dissociative behavior. Together, the eight theorems explain the dynamic and reciprocal behavior-context interface in interethnic communication. The theory also provides a conceptual blueprint for conducting case studies on specific interethnic communication events, and suggests pragmatic insights into ways to strengthen the social fabric of an ethnically diverse society from the ground up.
Publics Approaches to Health and Risk Message Design and Processing
James E. Grunig and Jeong-Nam Kim
The concept of publics and related notions such as receivers, audiences, stakeholders, mass, markets, target groups, and the public sphere are central to any discussion of formal communication programs between organizations or other strategic communicators and the individuals or groups with which they strive to communicate. The concept explains why individuals and collectivities of individuals are motivated to communicate for themselves (to seek or otherwise acquire information), with similar individuals to form organized groups, and with formal organizations to make demands on those organizations or to shape the behavior of the organizations. Theories of publics originated in the 1920s as the result of debates over the nature of citizen participation in a democracy, the role of the mass media in forming public opinion, the role of public relations practitioners in the process, and the effects of communicated messages on publics, audiences, and other components of society. J. Grunig developed a situational theory of publics in the 1960s that has served as the most prominent theory of publics for 50 years, and J.-N. Kim and J. Grunig recently have expanded that theory into a situational theory of problem solving. These theories have been used to identify and segment types of publics, to explain the communication behaviors of those publics, to conceptualize the effects of formal communication programs, to understand the cognitive processes of members of publics, and to explain the development of activist groups. Other scholars have suggested additions to these theories or alternatives to more thoroughly explain how communication takes place between members of publics and to identify latent publics that are largely ignored in the situational theories.