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Rocio Garcia-Retamero, Dafina Petrova, Adam Feltz, and Edward T. Cokely

Graphical displays generally facilitate the communication of complex information and are ubiquitous in media. Unfortunately, people differ in their ability to extract data and meaning from graphical representations of quantitative information (i.e., graph literacy). This means that for some people, even well-designed, simple graphs will cause confusion and misunderstanding. Research on the psychology of graph comprehension focuses on two instruments that efficiently assess fundamental graph literacy among diverse adults. The Objective Graph literacy scale is a well-established instrument with good psychometric properties that measures skill via cognitive performance testing (e.g., interpreting and evaluating various graphs). The recently developed Subjective Graph Literacy scale is a brief self-report of graph literacy that can outperform the objective test in notable ways, while reducing text anxiety. Emerging applications in clinical research and practice, including computerized decision aids, can personalize content as a function of one’s graph literacy.


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.


Ashley R. Kennard, Courtney Anderegg, and David Ewoldsen

Knowledge and comprehension are essential components of an individual’s understanding of a health text. Whether reading a health pamphlet or watching a health campaign in the form of a public service announcement (PSA), or watching edutainment programming, individuals gain knowledge about the health topic being discussed. Knowledge, however, can only be retained if the individual can also comprehend the text or video. Often comprehension in a health context focuses on health literacy or the degree to which individuals can process and understand health information in order to make informed health decisions. Health literacy is commonly viewed in terms of the readability (e.g., reading level, complexity) of the health text or script. However, in order for individuals to gain knowledge and use that knowledge appropriately and effectively in making health decisions, individuals need to comprehend or understand what the text is conveying. Because comprehension is such an important component of gaining and using health knowledge, we must understand how we store health knowledge in memory. A schema is a mental representation that stores knowledge as interrelated pieces of information. Schemas tend to be a fairly static representation of knowledge. A mental model is a more dynamic mental representation in that we use mental models to process, organize, and comprehend incoming information. In a mental model, there is a correspondence between an external entity and the constructed mental model of that entity that allows people to counterfactually manipulate information and engage in problem solving. A situation model is the most contextualized mental representation because it encompasses a specific event or set of interrelated events. There are several ways in which to examine comprehension processes. One way is to examine the most basic level of comprehension by investigating the importance of language and semantic representation of a text. A more complex way to examine comprehension is to view the activation levels of various words or concepts important in creating a representation of the story structure in memory. One model that specifically examines concept activation is the landscape model. The model posits that greater frequency of activation and the strength of activation of a concept determine the concept’s overall activation level. The higher the activation level of a concept in a text or video, the more likely the concept will be included in the mental representation for the text or video and stored in memory. A third way to study comprehension is to examine how concepts change throughout a text and how the concepts relate to one another. The event-indexing model describes how individuals create situation models based on five dimensions of information: time, space, protagonist, causality, and intentionality. Throughout the process of gaining information, the individual updates the situation models for a text on each of the five dimensions. When events have similar dimensions in common, the events are connected in memory; thus, describing health information with similar dimensions in common (e.g., a protagonist the entire way through the text, events happening in the same amount of time) will be better recalled later. Empirical work on comprehension of both text and video messages has demonstrated the landscape model and event-indexing model’s ability to examine comprehension processes based on the format, language, and organization of the information. Health message design can benefit from utilizing these comprehension models to ensure that knowledge is received by the intended audience and comprehended, and thus able to be used in future experiences.


Jannie Møller Hartley

The focus of news-audience research has shifted from investigating news audiences of single platforms—such as newspapers, television, or radio news—to audiences in an inherently cross-media context; and from examining the audience as passive, choosing between content made available for them; to investigating what audiences do with the news more actively, often coined by the term “news engagement.” News-audience studies can be divided into five approaches: (1) media-effect studies of news consumption; (2) studies of news-media use and motives; (3) cultural audience studies of news practices; (4) news audiences’ comprehension and recall of news; and (5) news engagement in the digital age. Due to changes in the media landscape, both technological and commercial, traditional analytical models in news-audience research have been challenged. The final discussion addresses how a tendency to focus on either reducing audiences to quantifiable aggregates in big-data research or labeling news audiences as a thing of the past can be observed—in both cases removing news-audience research from actual empirical audiences.


Graham D. Bodie

Listening is recognized as a multidimensional construct that consists of complex (a) affective processes, such as being motivated to attend to others; (b) behavioral processes, such as responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback; and (c) cognitive processes, such as attending to, understanding, receiving, and interpreting content and relational messages. Research in the communication studies discipline has focused most heavily on the cognitive processes of listening with the least attention afforded to behavioral components. Although several models of listening have been put forward, scholars still struggle with basic notions of how best to define listening for research purposes and how to incorporate listening into mainstream theoretical frameworks. Contemporary scholarship explores intersections between listening and cultural studies research as communication scholars come to participate in larger discussions of the auditory environment. At the start of the 21st century, listening research is just one of the many sites where communication studies is making a contribution to interdisciplinary research across the humanities and social sciences.