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Article

Communications Research in Using Genomics for Health Promotion  

Jada G. Hamilton, Jennifer L. Hay, and Colleen M. McBride

It was expected that personalized risk information generated by genetic discovery would motivate risk-reducing behaviors. However, though research in this field is relatively limited, most studies have found no evidence of strong negative nor positive psychological or behavioral influences of providing genetic information to improve individual health behaviors. As noted by systematic reviews and agenda-setting commentaries, these null findings may be due to numerous weaknesses in the research approaches taken to date. These include issues related to study samples and design, as well as the motivational potency of risk communications. Moreover, agenda-setting commentaries have suggested areas for improvement, calling for expanded consideration of health outcomes beyond health behaviors to include information exchange and information-seeking outcomes and to consider these influences at the interpersonal and population levels. A new generation of research is adopting these recommendations. For example, there is a growing number of studies that are using communication theory to inform the selection of potential moderating factors and their effects on outcomes in understanding interpersonal effects of shared genetic risk. Researchers are taking advantage of natural social experiments to assess the general public’s understanding of genetics and inform approaches to improve their facility with the information. Additionally, there are examples of risk communication approaches addressing the complexity of genetic and environmental contributors to health outcomes. Although the pace of this translation research continues to lag behind genetic discovery research, there are numerous opportunities for future communications research to consider how emerging genomic discovery might be applied in the context of health promotion and disease prevention.

Article

Health Disparities, a Social Determinant of Health and Risk: Considerations for Health and Risk Messaging  

Nancy Grant Harrington

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

Worry and Rumination as a Consideration When Designing Health and Risk Messages  

Tamara D. Afifi, Ariana Shahnazi, and Kathryn Harrison

Rumination is typically thought of as pessimistic, repetitive thinking or mulling that is deleterious for one’s health. Rumination, however, can take several forms and is not always harmful. In fact, it could actually be helpful in certain circumstances. It is common and often helpful when something stressful happens, like a health scare or problematic health diagnosis, for people to ponder or reflect on why it happened and brainstorm potential solutions to it. This is referred to as reflective rumination. Rumination affects people’s risk perceptions related to their personal and relational health and decision-making about their health. Research on negative rumination and health and positive rumination and health focuses on the impact of these patterns of thinking on health outcomes such as mental health, physical health, and relational health and as perceptions of health messages and risk likelihood.

Article

Embarrassment and Health & Risk Messaging  

Spring Chenoa Cooper and P. Christopher Palmedo

Embarrassment, according to Fischer and Tangney, is an “aversive state of mortification, abashment, and chagrin that follows public social predicaments.” It is usually related to our perceptions of how others perceive us as well as their judgments of us, and it is associated with a loss of self-esteem when we perceive that others have judged us as inadequate or incompetent. However, even mere exposure or attention publicly placed on someone can elicit embarrassment (think of someone pointing at you and laughing). Embarrassment is considered a self-conscious emotion. Self-conscious emotions include those that are evoked by self-reflection and self-evaluation: embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride. Shame, an intense form of embarrassment, also has structural and larger social contexts, while embarrassment is more individually experienced. Self-conscious emotions play an important role in regulating behavior; they assist us in behaving according to social standards and guide us in responding when those rules are broken. While these emotions provide feedback in social situations, they also provide feedback for anticipated outcomes. Embarrassment can play an important role in health, both in communication and behavior, and occurs through different forms. Primary embarrassment is the first rush of blood to the face and increased heart rate that usually lasts a few moments. Secondary embarrassment is the after-effect that shapes future behavior. Anticipatory embarrassment is the emotion surrounding the potential for embarrassment in an upcoming situation. Solitary embarrassment is the one that no one actually observes. Three stigmatized areas of health—mental health, healthcare, and sexual health—may be assessed as case studies through which to understand the literature around embarrassment, as both an affect and an emotion.

Article

Work as Opportunity and Problem When Trying to Impact Health and Risk  

Keri K. Stephens and Millie A. Harrison

Attention to population health issues is growing, and considering that people spend more time at work than in any other organization outside their home, worksites may offer a solution. For more than 30 years, many worksites have included programs to address employee health, safety, and risk. While some of these initiatives are mandated through legislation, other programs (e.g., workplace health programs (WHPs) or wellness initiatives) are often voluntary in the United States. Programs vary around the globe because some countries merge health, risk, and safety into one overarching regulated category, and there is a growing trend toward expanding these focus areas to include mental health and workplace stress. These programs can be quite innovative. Some interventions use technologies as prompts, such as mobile apps reminding employees to take medication. Other programs incorporate concepts from behavioral psychology and economics such as providing sleep pods at work and pricing healthy food in the cafeteria lower than high fat foods. Governmental incentives are offered in some countries that encourage employers to have WHPs. Yet despite the surface-level advantages of using the reach and access found in employing organizations to impact health, employees do not necessarily participate, and these programs are rarely or poorly evaluated. Furthermore, it is difficult to know how to make WHPs inclusive and how to communicate the availability of these programs. With the dual goals of directly impacting workers’ health and saving employers money, understanding how work can be a site for intervention is a worthwhile challenge to explore. WHPs struggle to achieve documentable objectives for several reasons; theory-driven research is suggesting new ways to understand what might improve the outcomes of WHPs. Privacy and surveillance concerns have dominated the WHP conversation in countries like the United States due to fears that health data might be used to fire employees. Another concern is the need to tailor workplace health messages for diverse cultures, ethnicities, and gender identities. Two other concerns relate the power differentials inherent in workplace hierarchies to overt and covert pressure employees feel to participate and meet what is defined as an ideal level of health. While these major concerns could be difficult to overcome, several theories provide guidance for improving participation and producing positive behavioral outcomes. Employees who feel a part of their organization, or are identified with their group, are more likely to positively view health information originating from their organization. Growing evidence indicates that certain technologies might also tap into feelings of identification and help promote the uptake of workplace health information. In addition, workplaces recognized as having norms for safety and health cultures might be more influential in improving health, safety, and risk behaviors. Recognizing boundaries between employee and workplace can also be fruitful in elucidating the ethics and legality of WHPs. Finally, program evaluation must become an integrated part of these programs to effectively evaluate their impact.

Article

Optimism and Its Associations with Health Behavior and Responses to Health Communication  

Amanda J. Dillard and Erin M. Ellis

When individuals are asked whether they will someday own their own home, enjoy a productive career, or develop a myriad of diseases, many are optimistic. Generally, they think they will experience more good than bad outcomes in life and they view themselves as more likely than similar others to experience the good things and less likely than others to experience the bad things. In the area of health behavior and communication, there are three primary types of optimism that have been defined and operationalized: (1) Dispositional optimism is the generalized positive expectancy that one will experience good outcomes. (2) Comparative optimism refers to the belief that one is either more likely than others to experience positive events or less likely than others to experience negative events. (3) Unrealistic optimism refers to an underestimation of one’s actual risk of experiencing some negative event. Although the three types of optimism may be correlated, their associations may be modest. Also, unlike dispositional optimism, which is an individual difference, comparative and unrealistic optimism are often risk perceptions about specific events and therefore can be defined as accurate or inaccurate. For this reason, the latter two types of optimism have sometimes been labeled the optimistic bias. Research on all three varieties of optimism affords opportunities to understand how optimism influences information processing in a health message or one’s behavioral intentions following the message.

Article

Procrastination, Health, and Health Risk Communication  

Fuschia M. Sirois

Whether viewed as a domain-specific behavior or as an enduring tendency, procrastination is a common form of self-regulation failure that is increasingly recognized as having implications for health-related outcomes. Central to procrastination is the prioritization of reducing immediate negative mood at the cost of decisions and actions that provide long-term rewards, such as engaging in health behaviors. Because people tend to procrastinate on tasks they find difficult, unpleasant, or challenging, many health-promoting behaviors are possible candidates for procrastination. As modifiable risk factors for the prevention of disease and disability, health behaviors are often the target of health risk communications aimed at health behavior change and reducing health procrastination. Research has consistently demonstrated the deleterious effects of chronic procrastination on health outcomes, including poor physical health, fewer health promoting behaviors, and higher stress in healthy adults and those already living with a chronic health condition. Examining the factors and psychological characteristics associated with chronic procrastination can provide insights into the processes involved in procrastination more generally, as well as the qualities of the health messages that can promote or prevent procrastination of the targeted behaviors. Low future orientation, avoidant coping, low tolerance for negative emotions, and low self-efficacy need to be considered when designing effective health risk communications to reduce procrastination of health behaviors. Yet, health risk communications aimed at reducing procrastination of important health behaviors such as healthy eating, regular physical activity, screening behaviors, and cessation of risky health behaviors often use fear appeals to motivate taking protective actions to reduce health risks. Such approaches may not be effective because they amplify the negative feelings towards the health behaviors, which can engender maladaptive coping responses and motivate procrastination rather than adaptive responding. This is especially likely among individuals prone to procrastination more generally, or specifically with respect to health. Health risk communication approaches that minimize the negative emotions associated with risk messages and instead highlight short-term benefits of engaging in health behaviors may be necessary to reduce further health behavior procrastination among individuals prone to this form of self-regulation failure.

Article

Social-Ecological Approaches to Health and Risk Messaging  

Kirsty Williamson

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

Culture, a Social Determinant of Health and Risk: Considerations for Health and Risk Messaging  

Juliet Iwelunmor and Collins Airhihenbuwa

We provide an overview on the role of culture in addressing the social determinants of health and risk. The fact that everyone is influenced by a set of locally defined forms of behavior means that while not overtly expressed, culture’s effects can be ubiquitous, influencing everything including the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping health and risk messaging. While the dynamic nature of culture is underestimated and often not reflected in most research, efforts to close the gap on social determinants of health and risk will require greater clarity on what culture is and how it impacts culture-sensitive health communication. Thus, the paper begins by reviewing why culture is so vital and relevant to any attempts to improve health and reduce health inequalities. We discuss what is meant by the term “culture” through a narrative synthesis of historical and recent progress in definitions of culture. We conclude by describing three distinct cultural frameworks for health that illustrate how culture can be effectively used as a vehicle through which to address culturally sensitive health communication in local and global contexts. Overall, we believe that culture is indispensable and important for addressing inequalities and inequities in health as well as for facilitating culture-sensitive health communication strategies that will ultimately close the gap on the social determinants of health and risk.

Article

Public Health and Community Organizing as Agents for Change in Health and Risk Messaging  

Paul W. Speer and Leah Marion Roberts

Agents of change serve as catalysts for stimulating social change, particularly at community and societal levels of analysis. We often think about the characteristics of individuals who act as change agents, such as their capacity to motivate others or their training skills. However, organizations and disciplinary fields can also serve as agents of change. There is an emerging awareness in the fields of public health and community organizing as to how these respective fields can collaborate to leverage their collective insights and skills to become effective agents of change for community health outcomes. Importantly, while public health is concerned with the social determinants that shape health inequities in all communities, community organizing is focused on community issues that residents confront as constraints or problems in their daily lives. There is an inchoate understanding within the fields of public health and community organizing that the social determinants addressed in public health are often the same issues identified and addressed by community organizing groups. Both disciplines work as agents of change through their traditional efforts; however, there is promise in the evolving collaborations between these two fields. Recognition that both fields are addressing the same community phenomena is an important step, but whether collaborations and shared practices become distributed and institutionalized is an open question. Public health possesses research and analytic sophistication capable of identifying different social determinants and the pathways through which such determinants contribute to poor community health outcomes. In contrast, community organizing supplies an understanding of social change that requires the exercise of power through the participation and active engagement by those most directly affected by local issues or social determinants. One tension in this emergent collaborative practice stems from the fact that, at times, these different disciplinary skill sets are at odds. Whereas public health has a deep value of data analysis and expertise, community organizing prioritizes the participation and self-determination of those impacted by community problems. Fundamentally, the tension here is between the value placed on expertise versus the value placed on public participation. Neither value is inherently superior to the other; understanding how these two values can complement one another to address social determinants that shape community health outcomes is critical for realizing the promise of these organizational agents of change.

Article

Rehabilitation Groups  

Toby Raeburn

“Rehabilitation groups” refers to community-based organizations which substantially rely on the work of volunteers to assist people with disabilities towards functional independence. One may differentiate between rehabilitation groups and clinical healthcare services by categorizing clinical services as being predominantly concerned with treatments designed to lower symptoms and cure ill health. Alternatively, rehabilitation groups focus their attention on delivering programs designed to assist people in regaining “functional independence” with or without the ongoing presence of symptoms. Common programs rehabilitation groups deliver are described as including but not being limited to the following: • Mental health rehabilitation: assisting people with lived experience of mental illness towards social and emotional wellbeing. • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation: facilitating recovery from abuse of and dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol and other drugs. • Physical health rehabilitation: improving physical and/or neurocognitive functions that have been diminished by ongoing effects of disease or injury. Major themes of communication influence rehabilitation groups and there are connections between the daily work of rehabilitation groups and the theoretical paradigms that influence them. Theoretical paradigms include social disability theory, recovery-oriented care, person-centered care, and cultural materialism.

Article

Faith Communities and the Potential for Health Promotion  

Alice M. Kiger, Donna M. Fagan, and Edwin R. van Teijlingen

Faith communities play an important role in health promotion in some parts of the world, notably North America and sub-Saharan Africa. They appear to be less prominent in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that it is a high-income country with a well-developed national public health system. Faith communities can be instigators of health promotion (faith-based health promotion), or they can provide settings where other agencies can conduct health promotion (faith-placed health promotion). Key opportunities and barriers for faith-based and faith-placed health promotion can be found by drawing on examples from the United States and Africa.

Article

Video Games and Gaming: Reaching Audiences With Health and Risk Messages  

Anthony M. Limperos

Video games are a very popular form of entertainment media and have been the subject of much debate since their meteoric rise to popularity in the 1980s. Similar to the criticisms leveraged against other forms of media, video games have often been scrutinized for their potential to negatively influence those who play them. However, since the beginning of the 21st century, many new genres of video games have emerged and as a result, both public dialogue and research attention have shifted more toward understanding how certain games can be used for prosocial purposes. Exercise-based and active video games (AVGs) are a type of game which requires players to get up and move instead of simply sitting in front of the TV and pushing buttons. These types of games have received a lot of popular press and scholarly attention due to the fact that they encourage movement and may be used as a health intervention tool, especially to combat problems like obesity and overweight. Even though there has been significant research attention focused on the potential health benefits of playing these types of games, there is still much work to be done. While researchers have advanced a general understanding of why certain AVGs are effective or ineffective, there needs to be a greater emphasis on understanding the process by which these games can be motivating and influential. Shedding light on what makes AVGs potentially effective health management and intervention tools will not only be important for motivating people to become more active, but may also help inform research which focuses on how video games may be used in the health domain more generally.

Article

Fatalism and Locus of Control as a Consideration When Designing Health and Risk Messages  

Lijiang Shen

Fatalism is a set of beliefs that encompasses such dimensions as predestination, pessimism, and attribution of one’s health (life events) to luck. Locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they are in control of events that affect them. Individuals with an external locus of control perceive their life is controlled by environmental factors they can’t change, or by chance or fate. Fatalism and external locus of control are both negatively associated with health behaviors and health outcomes; and contribute to health disparities due to the link between culture and socio-economic factors.

Article

Persuasive Health Message Design  

Nancy Grant Harrington

The study of persuasive health messages—their design, dissemination, and impact—is ubiquitous in the communication discipline. Words, sounds, and images—alone or in combination—can move people to change their minds and their bodies. Micro-level topics surround questions of message content (argumentation scheme, evidence, qualifying language, and figurative language), structure (message sidedness, standpoint articulation, inoculation, and sequential strategies), and format (channel and audiovisual effects). Macro-level topics in this area include message sensation value, narrative, framing, emotional appeals, and tailoring. Central theoretical frameworks used to guide message design research, include health behavior change theories, information processing theories, and theories/frameworks for message design. In addition, some of the methodoligical issues inherent in message design research are questions of analysis, validity, and measurement. Four streams of past scholarship that inform persuasive health message design research: Greek rhetoric, mass communication research begun during World War II, the development of health communication as a research focus within the communication discipline, and the development of computer and telecommunications technology. Directions and challenges for future research include the need for a clear, coherent, and comprehensive taxonomy to classify message characteristics and attention to several methodological issues.

Article

Health Promotion and Risk Reduction in Congregations  

Dennis Myers, Terry A. Wolfer, and Maria L. Hogan

A complex web of attitudinal, cultural, economic, and structural variables condition the decision to respond to communications promoting healthy behavior and participation in risk reduction initiatives. A wide array of governmental, corporate, and voluntary sector health-related organizations focus on effective messaging and health care options, increasing the likelihood of choices that generate and sustain wellness. Researchers also recognize the significant and multifaceted ways that religious congregations contribute to awareness and adoption of health-promoting behaviors. These religiously based organizations are credible disseminators of health education information and accessible providers of venues that facilitate wellness among congregants and community members. The religious beliefs, spirituality, and faith practices at the core of congregational cultural life explain the trustworthiness of their messaging, the health of their adherents, and the intention of their care provision. Considerable inquiry into the impact of religion and spirituality on health reveals substantive correlations with positive psychological factors known to sustain physical and psychological health—optimism, meaning and purpose, hope, well-being, self-esteem, gratefulness, social support, and marital stability. However, the beliefs and practices that create receptivity to health-related communications, care practices, and service provision can also be a deterrent to message impact and participation in healthy behaviors. When a productive relationship between spirituality and health exists, congregational membership offers rituals (e.g., worship, education, mission) and relationships that promote spiritual well-being. Research demonstrates increased life satisfaction and meaning in life, with health risk reduction associated with a sense of belonging, enriched social interactions, and shared experiences. Congregations communicate their commitment to wellness of congregants and community members alike through offering a variety of congregationally based and collaborative wellness and risk reduction programs. These expressions of investment in individual and community health range across all age, gender, and ethnic demographics and address most of the prominent diagnostic categories. These programs are ordered along three dimensions: primary prevention (health care messaging and education), secondary prevention (risk education), and tertiary prevention (treatment). Applying the dimensions of sponsorship, goal/mission, focus, services, staffing, and intended outcome highlights the similarities and differences among them. Several unique facets of congregational life energize the effectiveness of these programs. Inherent trust and credibility empower adherence, and participation decisions and financial investment provide service availability. These assets serve as attractive contributions in collaborations among congregations and between private and public health care providers. Current research has not yet documented the best practices associated with program viability. However, practice wisdom in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of congregationally based and collaborative health-related programs suggests guidelines for future investigation. Congregational leaders and health care professionals emphasize well-designed needs assessment. Effective congregational health promotion and risk reduction may be linked to the availability and expertise of professionals and volunteers enacting the roles of planner/program developer, facilitator, convener/mediator, care manager/advocate, health educator, and direct health care service provider.

Article

Health Literacy and Health/Risk Communication  

Michael Mackert, Sara Champlin, and Jisoo Ahn

Health literacy—defined as the ability of an individual to obtain, process, understand, and communicate about health information—contributes significantly to health outcomes and costs to the U.S. health-care system. Approximately one-quarter to one-half of U.S. adults struggle with health information, which includes understanding patient education materials, reading medication labels, and communicating with health-care providers. Low health literacy is more common among the elderly, those who speak English as a second language, and those of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to conceptualizing health literacy as an individual-level skill, it can also be considered an organizational or community-level ability. Increased attention to the field of health literacy has resulted in debates about the definition and the best ways to assess health literacy; there is also a strong and growing movement within the field of health literacy research and practice to frame health literacy less as a deficit to overcome and more as an approach to empowering patients and improving outcomes. As health-care providers have recognized the importance of health literacy, workshops, and training programs have been developed and evaluated to improve the care of low-health-literate patients. Similarly, health promotion professionals have developed best practices for reaching low-health-literate audiences with traditional and new digital media, which can also increase access for patients with hearing or visual impairments. Additionally, recent policy changes in the United States, including those related to the Affordable Care Act, contribute to a greater focus and regulation of factors that impact health literacy. Researchers and practitioners together are advancing understanding of health literacy, its relationship to health outcomes and health-care costs, and improved strategies for improving the health of lower health literate patients. Development and review of health literacy pieces can aid in shared decision making and provide insights for patients on various health-care services.

Article

The Biology Of Affection  

Kory Floyd and Colter D. Ray

Affectionate communication comprises the verbal and nonverbal behaviors people use to express messages of love, appreciation, fondness, and commitment to others in close relationships. Like all interpersonal behaviors, affectionate communication has biological and physiological antecedents, consequences, and correlates, many of which have implications for physical health and wellness. Investigating these factors within a biological framework allows for the adjudication of influences beyond those attributable to the environment. In particular, there are observable genetic and neurological differences between individuals with a highly affectionate disposition and those less prone to communicating affection, suggesting that variance in the tendency to engage in affectionate behavior is not entirely the result of environmental influences such as enculturation, parenting, and media exposure. In addition, the expression of affection is associated with markers of immune system competence and appears to help the body to relax and remain calm. The biological effects of affectionate communication are perhaps most pronounced in situations involving either acute or chronic stress. Specifically, highly affectionate individuals are less likely than others to overreact physiologically to stress-inducing events. Whatever stress reaction they do mount is better regulated than among their less affectionate counterparts. Moreover, highly affectionate individuals—or simply those who receive expressions of affection prior to or immediately following a stressful situation—exhibit faster physiological recovery from their elevated stress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, being deprived of adequate affectionate communication is predictive of multiple physical and psychological detriments, including elevated stress and exacerbated depression, social and relational problems, insecure attachment, susceptibility to diagnosed anxiety and mood disorders, susceptibility to diagnosed secondary immune disorders, chronic pain, and sleep disturbances.

Article

Social Influence Processes and Health Outcomes in Alcoholics Anonymous  

Kevin Wright

Social influence processes play an important role in the recovery process for alcoholics who affiliate with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Group norms at AA emphasize the sharing of stories about past difficulties with alcohol, the circumstances that led a person to join AA, and how life has changed since achieving sobriety. These narratives serve to increase collective identity among AA members via shared experiences and to reinforce AA ideology. In discussions and interpersonal interactions at AA meetings, AA ideology is also communicated and reinforced through AA literature and the discussion of central tenets, such as the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the idea that alcoholism is a progressive disease, and the need to be active in one’s sobriety. Moreover, AA meetings provide an opportunity for recovering alcoholics to find others who share similar experiences, an opportunity for greater social comparisons to other alcoholics than are typically available in primary social networks, and group-suggested role obligations that influence commitment to AA and long-term sobriety. These social influence processes have been linked to important health outcomes, including longer abstinence from alcohol use than with other treatment options, reduced stigma associated with alcoholism, reduced stress/depression, increased self-efficacy, and the acquisition of coping skills that are important to the recovery process.

Article

Media Depictions of Sexual Attitudes  

Keren Eyal

Over the last 3 decades, content analyses have documented large amounts of sexual content in mainstream entertainment media, on television and streaming services as well as in films, music, and video games. Most sexual content is conveyed through conversations about sex and, to a somewhat lesser extent, through the portrayal of sexual behaviors, primarily passionate kissing and suggestive actions. Attitudes—evaluations linking attributes to objects—are often presented in the media and may also be the outcomes of media exposure to sexual content. In the context of sexuality, some commonly studied attitudes include attitudes toward casual or extrarelational sexual encounters, attitudes toward contraception use, and attitudes toward sexual abuse or the acceptance of rape myths. Among the most prominent theoretical perspectives examining the links between media exposure and audience outcomes are theories of script building and activation, theories of a worldview cultivation, and theories of cognitive learning of social behaviors, and the attitudes and emotions that underlie them. Sexual attitudes can be conveyed through mainstream entertainment media content in diverse ways. First, the mere presence of certain topics in the content (e.g., casual sexual encounters) might convey an attitude about the behavior’s importance and relevance to people’s lives. At times, such inclusive depictions can empower audience members. The opposite—the exclusion of certain sexual topics from media content (e.g., sexual minority characters) might undermine the serious attitude with which they should be addressed. Second, attitudes may be conveyed through the focus placed upon them in the mediated content. Sexual health, recognized as intrinsically associated with sexual behaviors in the real world, is largely missing from media depictions. The rise in the prevalence of sexual crime storylines, especially in television law-and-order crime drama series, has introduced diversity in the attitudes conveyed toward this topic in the media. Sexual consent is another topic that has received more attention in entertainment media in the last couple of decades; the attitudes most commonly depicted about sexual consent seem to be the minimization of its importance through the portrayal of either altogether absent or implicit and nonverbal consent cues. Third, sexual attitudes in mainstream entertainment content may be depicted through the portrayal of consequences of sexual references and behaviors and through the depiction of the emotions associated with them. Research finds that portrayals of sexual consequences are relatively rare in entertainment narratives but when present, they tend to focus on the emotional and negative outcomes of sex. Fourth, sexual attitudes are often depicted in the media in the context of humor. Humor in its many forms may communicate a lighthearted, discomfort-easing attitude toward sex, but it might also trivialize the behavior and endorse a less serious attitude toward the decisions it entails. Finally, sexual attitudes are often depicted through stereotypes in media content. Common stereotypes in entertainment media include the narrow and biased presentation of sexual minority characters, which tends to marginalize their sexuality and support a heteronormative attitude. Other stereotypes include sexual gender roles and the sexualization of female characters, both communicating demeaning and nonvalidating attitudes toward women and their sexuality.