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Article

Mental Models of Risk  

Ann Bostrom

Mental models of health risks are the causal beliefs that comprise one’s inference engines for the interpretation and prediction of health and illness experiences and messages. Mental models of health risks can be parsed into a handful of common elements, including beliefs about causes, consequences, and cures as well as identifying information such as symptoms and timing. Mental models research deriving from a risk and decision analysis framework emphasizes exposure sources and pathways as part of causal thinking as well as how interventions may reduce or increase the risk. Mental models can be developed as a function of one’s goals or the problem in a specific context, rather than as coherent, stable knowledge structures in long-term memory. For this reason they can be piecemeal and inconsistent in the absence of expertise or experience with the risk. Derived often by analogy with more familiar risks, mental models of health risks can lead to effective health behaviors but also to costly inaction or misplaced action. Assessing mental models of hazardous processes can contribute to the design of effective risk communications by identifying the concrete information message recipients need to cope with health risks, thereby making or strengthening common-sense links between risk and action representations. Although a wide variety of research methods are used to investigate mental models, achieving this level of specificity requires attention to substantive details. Researchers are beginning to better understand the interactions between mental models of risk and their social, cultural, and physical contexts, but much remains to explore.

Article

Numeracy in Health and Risk Messaging  

Priscila G. Brust-Renck, Julia Nolte, and Valerie F. Reyna

The complexity of numerical information about health risks and benefits places demands on people that many are not prepared to meet. For example, much information about health is communicated numerically, such as treatment risks and effectiveness, lifestyle benefits, and the chances of side effects from medication. However, many people—especially the old, the poor, and the less educated—have difficulty understanding numerical information that would enable them to make informed health decisions. Some evidence also suggests cultural and gender differences (although their causes have been disputed). The ability to use and understand numbers (i.e., numeracy) plays an important role in how information should be displayed and communicated. Measuring differences in numeracy provides a standard to guide one’s approach when communicating risk. Several surveys have been developed to allow for a descriptive assessment of basic and analytical mathematical skills in nationally representative samples (e.g., NAEP, NAAL, PISA, PIACC). Other measures assess specific skills, such as perception of numbers (e.g., number line, approximation, dots tasks), individual perception of one’s own ability (i.e., Subjective Numeracy Scale), and arithmetic computation ability (i.e., Objective Numeracy Scales, Abbreviated Numeracy Scale, and Berlin Numeracy Test). Difficulties associated with low numeracy extend well beyond the inability to understand place value or perform computations. Understanding and remediating low numeracy requires getting below the surface of errors in judgment and decision making to the deeper level of scientific theory. Despite the relevance of numbers in decision making, there is a certain level of disagreement regarding the psychological mechanisms involved in numeracy. Studies show that people have a basic mental representation of numbers in which the discriminability of two magnitudes is a function of their ratio rather than their difference (psychophysical approaches). Numerical reasoning has been identified with quantitative and analytical processes, and such computation is often seen as an accurate and objective way to process information (traditional dual-process approaches as applied to numeracy). However, these approaches do not account for the contradictory evidence that reliance on analysis is not sufficient for many decisions and has been associated with worse performance for some decisions. Studies supporting a more recent dual-process approach—one that accounts for standard and paradoxical effects of numeracy on risk communication—emphasize the role of intuition: this is a kind of advanced thinking that operates on gist representations, which capture qualitative understanding of the meaning of numbers that is relevant in decision making (Fuzzy Trace Theory). According to Fuzzy Trace Theory, people encode both actual numbers (verbatim representations) and qualitative interpretations of their bottom-line meaning (gist representations) but prefer to rely on the qualitative gist representations when possible. Thus, potential difficulties in decision making arising from deficits in numeracy can be resolved through meaningful communication of risk. Creating narratives that emphasize the contextually relevant underlying gist of risk and using methods that convey the meaning behind numeric presentations (e.g., use of appropriate arrays to communicate linear trends, meaningful relations among magnitudes, and inclusion relations among classes) improve understanding and decision making for both numerate and innumerate individuals.

Article

Social Amplification of Risk in Health and Risk Messaging  

Yulia A. Strekalova and Janice L. Krieger

Risk is a social construction, and its understanding by information consumers is shaped through interaction with messages, opinions, shared and learned experiences, and interpretations of the characteristics of risk. Social actors and information flows can provide heuristic cues about risks, their relative importance and unimportance, and the attention that an information consumer ought to pay to a particular risk. Social cues can also accentuate particular characteristics of risk, further amplifying or attenuating attention to it and shaping behaviors. This, in turn, can generate secondary and tertiary effects resultant from the public’s reaction to risk. The process of social amplification of risk, therefore, has structural components that include the social elements that get enacted in the process of the translation of risk information. Risk amplification is also affected by message factors, which can dramatize information, increase attention and uncertainty, and generate shared signals and symbols. And finally, social amplification of risks results in reactions that can shape pathways for risk assessment and management, frame views, fuel intergroup dynamics in response to risk, contribute to the accumulation of experiential knowledge and signals of different risk situations, and label and stigmatize some groups or outcomes as undesirable.

Article

Exemplification Theory in Health and Risk Messaging  

Patric R. Spence, David Westerman, and Robert G. Rice

Humans often prefer representations that are cognitively easier to store, and such representations are easier to retrieve later to make judgments about the social world. Exemplification theory draws on physiological memory mechanisms and argues that simple, iconic, concrete, and emotionally arousing depictions of events (exemplars) are favored and thus more likely to be stored and used than are abstract, inconsequential depictions or representations. Inconsequential information or representations are forgotten because they are not processed as being essential for survival. Exemplified events vary on a continuum of how accurately they represent a larger occurrence of events. Through specific uses of pictures, quotes and other depictive strategies, concrete, iconic, and emotionally arousing information is often added to a story. Research has documented the strength of specific exemplars in creating inaccurate estimations of events and perceptions of severity and susceptibility. Moreover, in the presence of a risk, portrayals with exemplars have been shown to motivate individuals to intend to change behavior. Exemplification is a strong theory that is understudied and underutilized. The theory has strong explanatory, predictive, and organizing power, and it has application to phenomena in contexts such as media effects, persuasion, crisis and risk communication, health communication and public relations.

Article

Using Maps to Display Geographic Risk, Personal Health Data, and Ownership  

Suellen Hopfer and Genesis Gutierrez

Fundamental structural features of risk maps influence how health risk and burden information is understood. The mapping of health data by medical geographers in the 1800s has evolved into the field of geovisualization and the use of online, geographic information system (GIS) interactive maps. Thematic (statistical) map types provide basic principles for mapping geographic health data. It is important to match the nature of statistical data with map type to minimize the potential for communicating misleading messages. Strategic use of structural map features can facilitate or hinder accurate comprehension of health risk messages in maps. A key challenge remains in designing maps to communicate a clear message given the complexity of modern health risk burdens. Various structural map features such as symbols, color, grouping of statistical data, scale, and legend must be considered for their impact on accurate comprehension and message clarity. Cognitive theory in relationship to map comprehension plays a role, as do insights from research on visualizing uncertainty, future trends in developing predictive mapping tools for public health planning, the use of geo-social and “big data,” as well as data ownership.

Article

Absent Information in Integrative Environmental and Health Risk Communication  

Jari Lyytimäki and Timo Assmuth

Communication is typically understood in terms of what is communicated. However, the importance of what is intentionally or unintentionally left out from the communication process is high in many fields, notably in communication about environmental and health risks. The question is not only about the absolute lack of information. The rapidly increasing amount and variability of available data require actors to identify, collect, and interpret relevant information and screen out irrelevant or misleading messages that may lead to unjustified scares or hopes and other unwanted consequences. The ideal of balanced, integrative, and careful risk communication can only rarely be seen in real-life risk communication, shaped by competition and interaction between actors emphasizing some risks, downplaying others, and leaving many kinds of information aside, as well as by personal factors such as emotions and values, prompting different types of responses. Consequently, risk communication is strongly influenced by the characteristics of the risks themselves, the kinds of knowledge on them and related uncertainties, and the psychological and sociocultural factors shaping the cognitive and emotive responses of those engaged in communication. The physical, economic, and cultural contexts also play a large role. The various roles and factors of absent information in integrative environmental and health risk communication are illustrated by two examples. First, health and environmental risks from chemicals represent an intensively studied and widely debated field that involves many types of absent information, ranging from purposeful nondisclosure aimed to guarantee public safety or commercial interests to genuinely unknown risks caused by long-term and cumulative effects of multiple chemicals. Second, light pollution represents an emerging environmental and health issue that has gained only limited public attention even though it is associated with a radical global environmental change that is very easy to observe. In both cases, integrative communication essentially involves a multidimensional comparison of risks, including the uncertainties and benefits associated with them, and the options available to reduce or avoid them. Public debate and reflection on the adequacy of risk information and on the needs and opportunities to gain and apply relevant information is a key issue of risk management. The notion of absent information underlines that even the most widely debated risk issues may fall into oblivion and re-emerge in an altered form or under different framings. A typology of types of absent information based on frameworks of risk communication can help one recognize its reasons, implications, and remediation.

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

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

Theory of Mind and Communication in Health and Risk Messaging  

M. Jeffrey Farrar, Yao Guan, and Kaitlyn Erhardt

Humans live not only in a physical world but also in a mental world. Theory of mind reflects the understanding that the mind is comprised of different mental states, such as intentions, desires, and beliefs. This conception of the mind is a critical achievement in human development because it directly impacts effective communication and social interaction. It allows for the understanding of others’ behaviors by inferring their mental states. The formation of a theory of mind has been a central topic in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. It impacts related processes, such as communication skills, perspective-taking ability, and social cognition. Across the life span, the understanding of the mind becomes increasingly complex. Early in development, infants and toddlers can discern the intentions of others. Later, more sophisticated reasoning about the mental states of others becomes possible. For instance, the ability to follow and understand the recursive thought that “Sam believes, that Mary said, that Jose wanted . . .” develops. Additionally, within distinctive developmental time periods, people differ in their ability to take into account mental states. Once people’s beliefs, including their misconceptions, are identified, it is possible to generate effective communication strategies designed to teach, learn, and even reduce risk-taking behaviors.

Article

Queer Safer Sex Communication  

Kami Kosenko

Although communication scholars have been exploring the role of partner communication in sexual health promotion since the 1960s, the term safer sex, and its corollary safer sex communication, emerged in the late 1980s in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was and still is disproportionately affecting queer individuals. Numerous studies, along with some meta-analyses, point to the protective potential of safer sex discussions, defined here as the communicative management of health concerns with sex partners. Despite scholarly agreement regarding its importance, the term safer sex communication has received little explication, and much of what is known about it comes from studies with predominantly heterosexual samples. A review of the literature on queer safer sex communication points to some key issues related to age, race, trauma history, place, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and suggests important considerations for future research efforts.

Article

Blogging, Microblogging, and Exposure to Health and Risk Messages  

Stephen A. Rains

The widespread diffusion of social media in recent years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for health and risk communication. Blogs and microblogs are specific forms of social media that appear to be particularly important. Blogs are webpages authored by an individual or group in which entries are published in reverse chronological order; microblogs are largely similar, but limited in the total number of characters that may be published per entry. Researchers have begun exploring the use and consequences of blogs and microblogs among individuals coping with illness as well as for health promotion. Much of this work has focused on better understanding people’s motivations for blogging about illness and the content of illness blogs. Coping with the challenges of illness and connecting with others are two primary motivations for authoring an illness blog, and blogs typically address medical issues (e.g., treatment options) and the author’s thoughts and feelings about experiencing illness. Although less prevalent, there is also evidence that illness blogging can be a resource for social support and facilitate coping efforts. Researchers studying the implications of blogs and microblogs for health promotion and risk communication have tended to focus on the use of these technologies by health professionals and for medical surveillance. Medical professionals appear to compose a noteworthy proportion of all health bloggers. Moreover, blogs and microblogs have been shown to serve a range of surveillance functions. In addition to being used to follow illness outbreaks in real-time, blogs and microblogs have offered a means for understanding public perceptions of health and risk-related issues including medical controversies. Taken as whole, contemporary research on health blogs and microblogs underscores the varied and important functions of these forms of social media for health and risk communication.

Article

Agenda Setting in Health and Risk Messaging  

Karyn Ogata Jones

Since McCombs and Shaw first introduced the theory in 1972, agenda setting has emerged as one of the most influential perspectives in the study of the effects of mass media. Broadly defined, “agenda setting” refers to the ability of mass media sources to identify the most salient topics, thereby “setting the agendas” for audiences. In telling us what to think about, then, mass media sources are perceived to play an influential role in determining priorities related to policies, values, and knowledge on a given topic or issue. Scholars have studied this phenomenon according to both object (issue) salience and attribute salience and along aggregate and individual audience responses. The audience characteristics of need for orientation, uncertainty, relevance, and involvement are advanced as moderating and predicting agenda-setting effects. When agenda-setting theory is applied to the study of messaging related to health and risk communication, scholars have reviewed and identified common themes and topics that generally include media’s role in educating and informing the public about specific health conditions as well as public health priorities and administrative policies. Agenda setting is often examined in terms of measuring mass media effects on audiences. Looking at interpersonal communication, such as that coming from medical providers, opinion leaders, or peer networks, in studies will allow research to examine the combined effects of interpersonal and mass communication. Testing possible interactions among differing sources of information along with assessment of issue and attribute salience among audiences according to an agenda-setting framework serves to document audience trends and lived experiences with regard to mass media, health, and risk communication.

Article

Direct-to-Consumer Advertising and Health and Risk Messaging  

Kimberly A. Kaphingst

Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs (DTCA) is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States, affecting the health-care landscape. DTCA has been controversial, since a major increase in this type of advertising resulted from re-interpretation of existing regulations in the late 20th century. Health and risk communication research can inform many of the controversial issues, assisting physicians, policymakers, and the public in understanding how consumers respond to DTCA. Prior research addresses four major topics: (1) the content of DTCA in different channels, (2) consumers’ perceptions of and responses to DTCA, (3) individual-level factors that affect how consumers respond to DTCA, and (4) message factors that impact consumers’ responses. Such research shows that the presentation of risk and benefits information is generally not balanced in DTCA, likely affecting consumers’ attitudes toward and comprehension of the risk information. In addition, despite consumers’ generally somewhat negative or neutral perceptions of DTCA, this advertising seems to affect their health information seeking and communication behaviors. Finally, a wide range of individual-level and message factors have been shown to have an impact on how consumers process and respond to DTCA. Consumers’ responses, including how they process the information, request prescription drugs from providers, and share information about prescription drugs, have an important impact on the effects of DTCA. The fields of health and risk communication therefore bring theories and methodologies that are essential to better understanding the impact of this advertising.

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

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

Transportation Theory Applied to Health and Risk Messaging  

Melanie C. Green and Kaitlin Fitzgerald

Transportation Theory: Narrative transportation theory focuses on the causes and consequences of an individual being immersed in a story, or transported into a narrative world. Transportation refers to the feeling of being so absorbed in a story that connection to the real world is lost for some time; it includes cognitive engagement, emotional experience, and the presence of mental imagery. This experience is a key mechanism underlying narrative influence on recipients’ attitudes and beliefs, particularly in combination with enjoyment and character identification. Narrative persuasion through transportation has been demonstrated with a wide variety of topics, including health, social issues, and consumer products. Transportation can occur across media (through written, audio, or video narratives) and for both factual and fictional stories. It is typically measured with a self-report scale, which has been well-validated (Green & Brock, 2000). Transportation is conceptually similar to flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and presence (Klimmt & Vorderer, 2003), although both flow and presence pertain more to being immersed in an experience, rather than specifically in a narrative. While individuals are transported, their mental systems and capacities become concentrated on events occurring in the story, causing them to lose track of time, lack awareness of the surrounding environment, and experience powerful emotions as a result of their immersion in the narrative. Transported recipients may also lose some access to real-world knowledge, making them more likely to adapt their real-world beliefs and behaviors to be more consistent with the story to which they are exposed. Transportation theory suggests several mechanisms to explain this phenomenon, including reduced counterarguing, connections with characters, heightened perceptions of realism, the formation of vivid mental imagery, and emotional engagement. Personality factors can also affect the extent of transportation: narrative recipients vary in transportability, or their dispositional tendency to become transported; and they may be influenced differently by narratives due to a difference in their need for affect (individuals high in need for affect are more likely to be transported into narratives). Additional factors such as story quality and points of similarity between the reader and the story can also influence transportation.

Article

Communication Campaigns that Emphasize Environmental Influences on Health and Risk  

Kami J. Silk, Sarah Sheff, Maria Lapinski, and Alice Hoffman

The environment influences health and risk outcomes, and communication campaigns often strive to reduce risk and promote positive health outcomes by raising awareness, increasing knowledge, influencing attitudes, and impacting intentions and behavior. Communication campaigns should be based on good formative research and theory, and they should be implemented with fidelity and a clear evaluation plan. Communication campaigns that address environmental influences are typically focused on promoting human, animal, or environmental outcomes despite the fact that all three are interconnected and would benefit from being considered in a larger ecological framework. The One Health approach reconceptualizes environmental influences by focusing not just on the environmental but also connections with human and animal health. One Health can be applied to communication campaigns to support efforts that acknowledge and promote the complexity of these relationships. Campaigns about environmental influences on health and risk range from a longstanding campaign built on individual activities to reduce environmental and personal risk to a sun smart campaign to reduce sun exposure risk to a lead-free campaign and an asthma-control campaign concerned about air quality. Other environmental campaigns focus on tobacco prevention, obesity prevention by addressing environmental influences as part of their strategy, climate control, and ocean species preservation—and that is only a sampling of popular campaign topics. These communication campaigns face similar challenges like lack of formative research and evaluation plans as well as atheoretical approaches to influence outcomes.

Article

Using Pictures in Health and Risk Messages  

Sarah C. Vos and Elisia Cohen

Using pictures (also called images) in health and risk messages increases attention to messages and facilitates increased retention of message content, especially in low-literate populations. In risk communication, researchers have found that pictorial warnings stimulate communication and that images without text can communicate risk information as effectively (or, in some cases, more effectively) than text. However, little empirically based guidance exists for designing images for health and risk messages because most studies use an absence-presence model and compare visual communication to textual communication, rather than compare different types of visual communication. In addition, visual communication theories focus on describing the “how” aspect of communication instead of offering proscriptive guidance for message design. Further complicating the design of visual messages is that the number of possibilities for a visual message is, like text-based messages, almost infinite. Choices include colors, shapes, arrangement, and the inclusion of text, logos, icons, and so on. As a result, best practices on visual messages often draw on design recommendations. Before the widespread advent of Internet use and the adoption of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, using images—especially color images—could be cost prohibitive. However, these online platforms facilitate the distribution of visual content, and many public health organizations use these platforms to distribute visual messages. The need for guidance and research on using pictures effectively is growing. Although there has been increasing focus on images in health messages, many questions still exist about how visual messages should be composed and what their effect is. The existing evidence suggests that visual information can improve persuasive and, on social networking sites, diffusion outcomes. However, visual information may be prone to misinterpretation. Researchers should also evaluate ethical considerations when choosing pictures. Message testing is highly recommended.

Article

Scientific Uncertainty in Health and Risk Messaging  

Stephen Zehr

Expressions of scientific uncertainty are normal features of scientific articles and professional presentations. Journal articles typically include research questions at the beginning, probabilistic accounts of findings in the middle, and new research questions at the end. These uncertainty claims are used to construct clear boundaries between uncertain and certain scientific knowledge. Interesting questions emerge, however, when scientific uncertainty is communicated in occasions for public science (e.g., newspaper accounts of science, scientific expertise in political deliberations, science in stakeholder claims directed to the public, and so forth). Scientific uncertainty is especially important in the communication of environmental and health risks where public action is expected despite uncertain knowledge. Public science contexts are made more complex by the presence of multiple actors such as citizen-scientists, journalists, stakeholders, social movement actors, politicians, and so on who perform important functions in the communication and interpretation of scientific information and bring in diverse norms and values. A past assumption among researchers was that scientists would deemphasize or ignore uncertainties in these situations to better match their claims with a public perception of science as an objective, truth-building institution. However, more recent research indicates variability in the likelihood that scientists communicate uncertainties and in the public reception and use of uncertainty claims. Many scientists still believe that scientific uncertainty will be misunderstood by the public and misused by interest groups involved with an issue, while others recognize a need to clearly translate what is known and not known. Much social science analysis of scientific uncertainty in public science views it as a socially constructed phenomenon, where it depends less upon a particular state of scientific research (what scientists are certain and uncertain of) and more upon contextual factors, the actors involved, and the meanings attached to scientific claims. Scientific uncertainty is often emergent in public science, both in the sense that the boundary between what is certain and uncertain can be managed and manipulated by powerful actors and in the sense that as scientific knowledge confronts diverse public norms, values, local knowledges, and interests new areas of uncertainty emerge. Scientific uncertainty may emerge as a consequence of social conflict rather than being its cause. In public science scientific uncertainty can be interpreted as a normal state of affairs and, in the long run, may not be that detrimental to solving societal problems if it opens up new avenues and pathways for thinking about solutions. Of course, the presence of scientific uncertainty can also be used to legitimate inaction.

Article

Climate Change Communication  

Amy E. Chadwick

Climate change, which includes global warming, is a serious and pervasive challenge for local and global communities. Communication theorists, researchers, and practitioners are well positioned to describe, predict, and affect how we communicate about climate change. Our theories, research methods, and practices have many potential roles in reducing climate change and its effects. Climate change communication is a growing field that examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Climate change communication covers a broad range of philosophical and research traditions, including humanistic-rhetorical analyses, interpretive qualitative studies, and social-scientific quantitative surveys and experiments. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Much of the research in climate change communication focuses on public understanding of climate change, factors that affect public understanding, media coverage and framing, media effects, and risk perceptions. Less prevalent, growing areas of research include civic engagement and public participation, organizational communication, and persuasive strategies to affect attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the climate. In all of these areas, most of the research on climate change communication has been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Western European countries. There is a need to expand the climate change communication research into other regions, particularly developing countries. In addition, climate change communication has natural links to environmental and health communication; therefore, communication scholars should also examine research from these areas to develop insights into climate change communication.