Graduate

Past Dissertations and Theses

Ph.D. Dissertations

2021 

Weijia Shi
The roles of perceived conflict and self-relevance in processing contradictory health information

Advisor: Rebekah Nagler 

Abstract

A growing body of research has shown that media exposure to contradictory health information can produce public confusion, generate negative beliefs about scientific research, and lower intentions to perform recommended health behaviors. To mitigate such adverse effects, effective communication and public health interventions are needed. However, less scholarly attention has been paid to the information processing of contradictory health messages. This dissertation furthers our understanding of the mechanisms of contradictory health information processing by asking two questions: (1) Are cognitive and affective effects of exposure to contradictory health messages mediated by perceived conflict, and (2) does the level of self-relevance prompt differential processing of contradictory health messages?

To address these questions, I conducted a two-wave survey experiment. To test the potential moderating effects of self-relevance, it is important to select an appropriate health topic which allows variances in the level of self-relevance. Wave 1 survey (N = 1944), therefore, asked participants to report how frequently they performed eight routine health behaviors and rate how important it was to perform each behavior. I identified coffee consumption as the health context for Wave 2 because it had an approximately equal number of participants with varying levels of self-relevance. Wave 2 Study 1 (N = 649) tested whether exposure to contradictory health messages is linked to perceived conflict, and whether relatively high self-relevance prompts defensive processing of contradictory health messages. Results showed that perceived conflict was significantly greater among participants in the contradictory messages condition than those in comparison conditions with one-sided, convergent messages. Additionally, both high self-relevance (i.e., heavy coffee drinkers who think drinking coffee is important) and low self-relevance (i.e., non-routine coffee drinkers who think drinking coffee is unimportant) individuals engaged in defensive processing of the dissonant message that contradicted their strong prior beliefs and/or behaviors. Study 2 (N = 846) tested whether perceived conflict leads to subsequent adverse cognitive and affective responses of exposure to contradictory messages, and whether these responses differ by self-relevance. Results demonstrated that perceived conflict induced by exposure to contradictory messages was overall associated with greater topic-specific confusion, general confusion, ambivalence, anger, and fear; but not backlash, media skepticism, or surprise. Also, these effects did not vary by self-relevance.
Taken together, due to empirical inconsistencies across the outcomes, it is difficult to reach a clear conclusion whether perceived conflict always functions as a mediator in contradictory health information processing. Additionally, those holding strong priors are more likely to engage in defensive processing of contradictory messages, but such processing does not result in differential effects of exposure to conflict. The implications of these findings for addressing potentially adverse effects of exposure to contradictory health messages are discussed. 


 

2020

Fernando Severino Diaz 
Immigration News in the Global South: A Comparative Analysis of Media Content and Journalistic Decisions and Practices in Latin America

Advisor: Giovanna Dell'Orto

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes the news media representation of intraregional immigration in Latin America in connection with the journalistic decisions that partially shape this content.

Based on an analysis of 1,690 news articles from 16 print and web outlets in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico (sampled from a database created uniquely for this dissertation), this project examines frames, word choices, sources, and other elements of news stories from 2014-2018. It also uses twenty interviews with journalists in these countries ––working for the news outlets analyzed here–– to establish relationships between the coverage produced in these newsrooms and the approach reporters take to write about immigration.

Overall, the findings show a predominant presence of two frames in the way news media decides to tell the story about immigration: A victim – humanitarian/human rights frame and a political responsibility–policy solutions and debates frame. These frames are heavily influenced by governmental voices and official messages that are the sources most used by reporters. News articles about the benefits of immigrants and immigration are minimal. The lack of specialization in newsrooms about reporting immigration, limited resources, and the context of violence negatively impact the presence of counternarratives to the official discourse. However, there is an agreement among journalists on writing about immigration in ways that avoid promoting xenophobia and stereotyping. Thus, the storytelling does not use charged labels about the newcomers, and concepts such as "illegality" are virtually absent.

From a theoretical perspective, this dissertation provides arguments about the role of professional journalism and journalists in developing countries as a crucial institution for democracy. From a more practical perspective, this project's results could benefit the work of reporters writing about immigration across newsrooms in the Global South

Chuqing Dong
Judge a nonprofit by the partners it keeps: How does cross-sector partnership disclosure influence public evaluations of the nonprofit?
Advisor: Hyejoon Rim

Abstract

Cross-sector partnerships between nonprofit organizations, businesses, and the government have become a popular strategy for nonprofits to secure economic support, acquire scarce resources, advance their missions, and address larger and more complex problems in society. Despite these merits, these collaborative efforts are also controversial given the inherent distinctiveness and incompatibility between cross-sector partners. Under careful public scrutiny and confronted with consistently declining public trust, it is critical for nonprofits to strategically communicate about their cross-sector partnerships. However, current research on cross-sector partnership communication has not paid adequate attention to the nonprofit’s perspective, and rarely has it focused on publics’ reactions to nonprofits’ partnership disclosures. Taking a network approach, this study considers a nonprofit’s partnership portfolio as its egocentric network, which includes multiple partners that are simultaneously supporting the nonprofit. How a portfolio is configured, such as how many and with whom the nonprofit works, reflects the nonprofit’s discretion in partner selection and its embeddedness in alliance networks. When the nonprofit publicly communicates about the partnership portfolio, it becomes visible and can function as informational cues that influence publics’ perceptions of the nonprofit. To understand the effect and effectiveness of the partnership communication, this dissertation project is centered on two overarching questions: How does a nonprofit’s disclosure of different portfolio configurations (size, industry diversification, and organization type diversification) influence individual publics’ evaluations of the nonprofit? How do such portfolio communication strategies interact with nonprofit cynicism to affect publics’ evaluations of the nonprofit? To address these research questions, this dissertation conducted two experiments. Study 1 adopted a between-subject design to examine the main and interaction effects of portfolio size and industry diversification on individual publics’ trust, attitude, and intention to support the focal nonprofit. In addition, it tested the interaction effects between nonprofit cynicism and these two portfolio configurations on the communication outcomes. Study 2 adopted a between-subject experimental design to examine the main and interaction effects of portfolio size and organization type diversification, as well as how nonprofit cynicism influences the effects of these portfolio strategies. The key findings from the two studies revealed that having a small number of partners compared to a large number did not lead to a significant difference in publics’ evaluations of the nonprofit. Inclusion of partners within the same business industry compared to diverse industries also did not affect publics’ evaluations. However, displaying partners of the same organization type, as compared to different organization types, led to stronger intention to support the nonprofit. Both industry diversification and organization type diversification showed a significant interaction effect with nonprofit cynicism, but the effects were in opposite directions. As for industry diversification, as the level of nonprofit cynicism increased, individuals had more positive evaluations of the nonprofit when exposed to a heterogeneous portfolio than a homogeneous one. When it comes to organization type diversification, as the level of nonprofit cynicism increased, individuals evaluated a nonprofit less positive when exposed to a heterogeneous portfolio than a homogeneous one. The results also indicated an interaction effect between portfolio size and organization type diversification. The focal nonprofit was more favored when it disclosed a small number of partners that were in the same organization type than in different organization types. This dissertation advances the current literature on cross-sector partnership communication by providing empirical evidence on the effect and effectiveness of partnership portfolio communication from an individual public’s perspective. The findings also offer useful practical implications for nonprofits’ partner selection and portfolio development that can effectively respond to an increasingly cynical fundraising environment.

Scott Memmel
Pressing the police and policing the press: The history and law of the relationship between the news media and law enforcement in the United States
Advisor: Jane Kirtley

Abstract

Amidst urbanization, immigration, industrialization, and rising crime in the United States in the 1830s-1840s, the modern conceptions of both the press and police were born. From early historical antecedents in the American colonies through the present, the news media and law enforcement have been, and continue to be, fundamental institutions in the United States. However, both parties face significant political, economic, social, and technological tension, pressure, and scrutiny, signifying the need for further research. Although past literature has covered some aspects of the press-police relationship, its history and law remain understudied. Through a new and original theoretical framework, in-depth literature review, three-part content analysis, and two-part legal analysis, this dissertation provides the most complete and comprehensive study of the history and law of the press-police relationship to date. It also aims to understand, analyze, and address how the history and law of the interactions between both parties inform the present and future of their relationship, including key implications on the press, police, and American public, as well as how the press-police relationship can be improved. This study therefore provides a series of important, tangible recommendations for the press and police to improve their relationship and better serve the public moving forward.

2019

Simin Michelle Chen
The Women's March movement on Facebook: Social connections, visibility, and digitally enabled collective action
Advisor: Sid Bedingfield

Abstract

Since the Arab Spring of 2011, scholars have debated the efficacy of social media in facilitating offline collective action. This dissertation seeks to fill a gap in that literature by examining the role of social ties in determining intention to participate in collective action. Using a mixed methods approach involving statistical analysis of survey results and in-depth interviews, this study examines how the Minnesota chapter of the Women's March in opposition to President Donald Trump used Facebook to engage and mobilize supporters. Findings show that aspects of tie strength such as reciprocity, duration, affect have different impact on intention to participate in high- and low-cost political actions. Similarly, the publicness of supporters' political action on Facebook has differing effects on intention to participate in collective action depending on supporters' tie strength with the chapter. Findings from this study have practical implication for social movement organizers seeking to energize, grow, and mobilize supporters using social media.

Hyejin Kim
The role of trust in rumor suppression on social media: A multi-method approach applying the trust scores in social media (TSM) algorithm
Advisor: Jisu Huh

Abstract

Commercial rumor about an organization or brand, especially on social media, presents a special challenge for marketers and communication practitioners because of the fast flow and exchange of information among peers. Despite the importance of refuting rumors quickly and effectively, research on the effects and effectiveness of refuting rumor messages has been limited. To advance the literature in this emerging research area, the current project examines the impact of an interpersonal relational factor on the dissemination and effectiveness of rumor-refutation communication. The role of interpersonal relational factors is particularly important given that rumors spread through word-of-mouth (WOM) communication. Rumor-refutation communication should also utilize the same communication conduit for rapid and effective refutation. To advance rumor-refutation research and address the rising problem of commercial rumors, this dissertation project aimed to examine 1) how interpersonal influence among peers affects the belief and retransmission of rumors and rumor-refutation messages, and 2) potentially influential message characteristics that could help enhance interpersonal influence on readers’ belief of the rumors and rumor refutation messages, and the retransmission of rumor-refutation messages. To achieve these research goals, this study adopted a multi-method approach. Study 1 is a between-subjects repeated-measures experiment with a 2 (high-trustworthy vs. low-trustworthy source) x 2 (presence vs. absence of a trust cue) design that examines how the trustworthiness of the message source and a trust cue designed to induce message trustworthiness affect the belief and retransmission intention of rumors and rumor-refutation messages. Study 2 utilizes a computational research approach using the Trust Scores in Social Media (TSM) algorithm to test how mathematically captured trustworthiness scores of the sources of rumor-refutation messages influence actual message retransmission and how such an effect is moderated by the presence of trust cues included in the messages. The key findings in Study 1 revealed that a high-trustworthy source compared to a low-trustworthy source led to higher levels of rumor-refutation message belief and retransmission intention, but source trustworthiness did not affect the extent of reduction in the rumor belief and retransmission intention. Inclusion of a trust cue also did not moderate the impact of source trustworthiness on the belief and retransmission intention for both the rumor and rumor-refutation messages. Instead, it showed main effects in increasing the rumor-refutation message belief and retransmission intention, and a decreasing rumor belief and retransmission intention. The findings in Study 2 further confirmed the effects of the trustworthiness of the source on rumor-refutation message retransmission. However, inclusion of trust cues did not augment the source trustworthiness effects. The results indicated that the influence of source trustworthiness was stronger when the rumor-refutation message had no embedded trust cue. This study advances the rumor and electronic word-of-mouth research field by revealing how interpersonal influence among peer social media users can contribute to the effects and effectiveness of rumor-suppression communication. The findings also offer useful practical implications for identifying effective rumor-refutation dissemination hubs and refutation message-crafting strategies for a successful rumor-suppression campaign.

Jisu Kim
Effects of incorporating citizen-eyewitness images into the news on audience trust in news organizations and news engagement
Advisor: Jisu Huh

Abstract

Recently, news organizations have actively been requesting and endorsing private citizens’ contributions to the news production through eyewitness images so as to circulate up-to-minute information and draw more audience attention to the news. Despite anecdotal evidence of growing numbers of citizen-eyewitness images in the news, there has been little systematic research on the extent of using citizen-eyewitness images by news organizations and the impact of incorporating citizen-eyewitness images into news content. In order to fill this gap in the research on citizen-eyewitness images, this study aims to examine: (1) the extent to which U.S. newspaper organizations incorporate images captured by private citizens into their news articles, and (2) the effects of incorporating citizen-eyewitness images in the news on audience trust in the news organization and audience engagement with the news. To achieve the goals, this study first conducted a machine-coded content analysis of news images published by 71 U.S. newspaper organizations to calculate the percentage of citizen-eyewitness images out of all news images with identifiable and classifiable sources (Study 1). This study then collected and analyzed user behavioral data on Twitter to compute a proxy measure representing trust in the news organizations using the Trust Scores in Social Media (TSM) algorithm and audience engagement with news (Study 2). The effects of the extent to which a news organization uses citizen-eyewitness images on audience trust in the news organization and audience engagement with news articles published by it were tested. The results showed that U.S. newspapers tended to incorporate a rather small number of citizen-eyewitness images in their news reports, and there were some variations in the degree of using citizen-eyewitness images in news reports among different groups of news organizations. In addition, the findings demonstrated that the extent to which a news organization incorporated citizen-eyewitness images in its news articles was positively related to the level of audience engagement with its news posted on Twitter. In contrast, there was no significant effect of incorporating images captured by private citizens into the news on audience trust in the news organization. This study contributes to advancing the participatory journalism research by providing systematic data depicting the current state of the newsroom practice using citizen-eyewitness images in the U.S. and examining the effects of citizen-eyewitness images in the news on audience trust in news organizations and engagement with news. Additionally, this study offers useful practical implications for news organizations as they develop strategies to deal with audience’s participation in the news production.

Xinyu Lu
The effects of consumers’ affect on attention and reaction to ads
Advisor: Jisu Huh

Abstract

This dissertation examined (1) the influence of affective states on consumers’ selective attention to different types of ads that are categorized based on theoretically-derived attention-inducing characteristics; and (2) the influence of affective states on consumers’ ad processing style and evaluation of the ads that received attention. A computational research approach was used cross-analyzing proxy measures of real-time affective fluctuation of TV viewers during the 2018 and 2019 Super Bowl broadcast and their tweets regarding the ads aired during the Super Bowl broadcast. The results demonstrated some supports for the linkage between consumers’ temporary affective states, induced by the performance of the team they cheer for, and their selective attention to different types of ads even when they are exposed to the same set of ads during commercial breaks. Consistent with Mood Management Theory and prior psychology research evidence connecting affective states to visual attention, consumers in a negative affective state tend to pay more attention to positive ads and ads with emotional appeals than do those in a positive affective state. Furthermore, consumers in a positive affective state tend to pay more attention to exciting ads, compared to those in a negative affective state. However, this study’s data did not show significant relationship between consumers’ affective state and their selective attention to ads with different semantic affinity levels, nor any significant effects of affective state on ad processing style or evaluation of ads. The study contributes to advancing the ad attention and mood management research by testing the largely untested effects of consumers’ temporary affective states on selective attention and reactions to ads. The computational research approach developed in this study also offers significant methodological contributions to advertising scholarship, opening new avenue of research to apply the computational research approach to advertising theory building, especially theory regarding the role of consumers’ affective factors. Additionally, this study provides useful practical implications for ad targeting and ad placement strategies based on consumers’ temporary affective states. This study’s findings suggest a new promising way to target consumers and personalize ads based on individual consumers’ real-time, temporary affective states that can be captured by appropriate proxy measure data.

2018

Lauren Gray
The effects of temporal distance on health behavior intention formation
Advisor: Rebekah Nagler

Abstract

The aim of my dissertation is to understand how people make decisions about their health. Decision-making is a complex psychological process. Health behavior change theories have suggested a number of factors that inform decision-making and lead to behavior change. One of the factors that influences the decision-making process is the time at which behavioral performance is relevant, but this has not been tested and replicated in a health behavior context. Time refers to when we are asking people to engage in a health behavior (i.e. exercise this week or a year from now). It is essential to explore the role of time reference, because any systematic differences time reference produces in the decision-making process will affect whether and how we address time references in designing persuasive health messages. Alternately, if it produces no systematic differences, this will affect persuasive message design as well in that we may not have to consider it when designing health messages. We can use theory to guide us in understanding and predicting health behavior. The more we understand about how people make decisions about engaging in certain health behaviors, the more accurately we can predict these health behaviors. Accurately predicting health behaviors has implications for communication research and health message design. Using a theory-based approach helps us better understand and predict health behavior decision-making, which is a necessary first step to persuasive health message design. In the present research, I use reasoned action theory and construal level theory. Reasoned action theory is a behavioral theory that has proven efficacy in identifying factors that underlie any given behavior. Construal level theory is a social cognitive psychological theory that argues that people construe a behavior abstractly when framed in distal, far future terms and concretely when framed in proximal, near future terms. These theories are being used in concert to test how temporal distance affects intention formation. To this end, my research is a series of three nested studies, beginning with formative research on my target audience and several health behaviors and ending with suggestions for persuasive message design. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Alexander Patrick Pfeuffer
The effects and underlying mechanisms of sponsorship disclosure in eWOM
Advisor: Jisu Huh

Abstract

Using a set of two experimental studies, this dissertation’s objectives were twofold. The first study examined the effects of sponsorship disclosure modes (written-only, spoken-only, and written-and-spoken disclosure) in sponsored online consumer product reviews on consumers’ attention to and perceived persuasive intent of sponsored eWOM. The second study explored the level of detail (low vs. high) and extent of disclosed commercial gain (general sponsorship, free product, payment for review, or sales commission) on attitudes toward the reviewer and a brand via proposed competing mechanisms of cue-based trust and persuasion knowledge. In both studies, effects were explored for search goods and experience goods. Study 1 found that, consistent with limited cognitive capacity theory and the Limited Cognitive Capacity Model of Mediated Message Processing, the spoken-only and written-and-spoken conditions generated incrementally higher attention when compared to written-only. However, perceived persuasive intent was not affected by disclosure mode. Key insights from Study 2 furthermore identified that, for experience goods, high detail level disclosures led to a more favorable attitude toward the reviewer, while the level of detail did not affect attitudinal responses for search goods. The results also showed that, in terms of extent of disclosed commercial gain, only the disclosure of receipt of a free product affected persuasion knowledge, trust, and attitude toward the brand. The receipt of a free product condition emerged as the only condition that did not exhibit lower trust and less favorable attitude toward the brand. Furthermore, persuasion knowledge, not trust, emerged as the indirect mediator facilitating extent of disclosed commercial gain effects on attitudes toward the brand and the reviewer for the disclosures of the receipt of a free product or a sales commission. The study contributes to the understanding of limited cognitive capacity, sponsorship disclosure effects, and to persuasion knowledge model and trust literature. Practical implications for eWOM stakeholders including advertisers, content creators, and policy makers are also discussed.

2017

Susan LoRusso
Beyond the "Angelina Effect": A longitudinal analysis of celebrity breast cancer disclosures' impact on news media and public online breast cancer information seeking outcomes, 2005-2016
Advisor: Rebekah Nagler

Abstract

A long research tradition exists investigating the content of news coverage of celebrity breast cancer disclosures and, to a greater extent, the impact these personal health narratives have on public cancer-related outcomes. However, the bulk of this research focuses on specific, large-scale media events, such as Angelina Jolie’s 2013 BRCA disclosure. The attention to individual disclosures provide insight about the specific media event, but does not further knowledge about the larger phenomenon of celebrity cancer disclosures. To go beyond the Angelina effect, this dissertation addresses three overarching research questions: 1) What breast cancer-related messages are present in media coverage of celebrity breast cancer disclosures; 2) do these messages impact public cancer-related behavioral outcomes (i.e., online breast cancer information seeking); and 3) are there attributes of the celebrity that predict media and public outcomes? To address these questions, first, 110 individual celebrity breast cancer disclosures between 2005 and 2016 were systematically identified. Then, two longitudinal studies were conducted. To address the first question, Study 1 used computer assisted and hand coded procedures to assess the presence of episodic frames (defined as containing information specific to the celebrity and her experience with breast cancer) and thematic frames (defined as including population and subpopulation breast cancer information [e.g., prevalance, risk, survial rates]). In addition, the presence of seven content categories classified as misinformation (defined as information which is innaccurate, misleading, or oversimplified) in news coverage was assessed. Results demonstrated that 80% of the news articles were written with an episodic frame, and 20% were written with a thematic frame, indicating very little information beyond the celebrity’s own experience with breast cancer was conveyed to the public. However, misinformation was largely absent in the news coverage—only misinformation pertaining to early breast cancer detection and mastectomy decisions was present in 10% or more of the news coverage. Study 2 attempts to determine if news content impacts information seeking by using the framing outcomes from Study 1 to predict Google Trends search query outcomes. Due to the disparate rates in the presence of episodic and thematic frames this dissertation is unable to provide support linking content and online breast cancer information seeking outcomes. However, time series models suggest that media coverage of celebrity breast cancer disclosures in the aggregate have a distal impact on the public’s breast cancer information seeking outcomes. For example, some analyses suggested effects happened as late as 17 months after news coverage of the disclosure. Yet the nature of these trends may be a function of the data. Establishing if celebrity attributes can predict media and public outcomes was done through a moderation analysis of the results of Study 1 and Study 2. Specifically, the extent to which the presence of episodic and thematic and misinformation were present and statistically significant information seeking models were examined as a function of the celebrity’s age, career type, breast cancer-event type, and level of celebrity status (defined as the degree of fame the celebrity achieved at the time of disclosure). Eighty-seven percent of thematic frames present were in news coverage of celebrities at the highest levels of fame. Specific categories in the age, career-type, and level of celebrity status variables predicted the presence of misinformation. Some preliminary evidence suggests level of celebrity status may predict online breast cancer information seeking outcomes. The implications of the dissertation’s findings for health communication research, mass media effects research, and professional health communicators are discussed.

Chelsea Reynolds
Casual encounters: Constructing sexual deviance on Craigslist.org
Advisor: Kathleen Hansen

Abstract

Despite the prevalence of dating websites and hookup applications, mass communication scholars have largely ignored news coverage of sex in the digital age. Research about online sexuality has built on early theories of cyber identity, in which the Internet was conceptualized as a great emancipator. Online, it was argued, people could explore “disembodied” sexualities with little interference from offline reality. This dissertation builds a research line that investigates journalistic discourse about online sexuality using more than a decade of coverage of Craigslist sex forums as a case study. It also examines user activity on Craigslist sex forums, testing dominant theories of online identity. For journalists, Internet-mediated sexuality represents a compound moral threat. Since 2003, national U.S. newspapers have consistently identified the classified ads website Craigslist as a hotbed for sexual deviants — people whose sexual interests mainstream culture deems immoral or even illegal. Newspaper journalists call on police and government sources to frame Craigslist users as prostitutes, violent criminals, and cheating politicians. By relying on elite sources, news media surveil social deviance for the public. This is an outcome of normative reporting practices. Representational scholars have argued that media made by marginalized groups will provide more nuanced narratives than the mainstream press. But in stories about Craigslist sex forums, alternative media reproduce stigma about online sexuality. Popular LGBTQ and feminist online magazines describe Craigslist sex forums as catalysts for illegal and immoral activity. They sometimes privilege sex workers’ voices and cover the experiences of sexual minorities, but they contribute to the same deviance-defining discourse about Craigslist sex forums as does the mainstream press. Media across the ideological spectrum police social deviance and reinforce cultural norms — online and off. Mass media surveillance of online sexuality encourages people to surveil their own behavior online. Ads on Craigslist sex forums reflect dominant cultural norms about sex despite posters’ attempts to explore their “unusual” fantasies. The Craigslist Casual Encounters forum provides a productive outlet for people to fantasize about kink, non-monogamy, race, and sexuality. But it also reflects the politics of its white male user base. Sexism, homophobia, and gendered logics saturate the forums. Offline stigmas about sexuality bleed into online sexual expression. This dissertation theorizes the role of normalizing judgment in determining media representations of online sexuality. It offers perspectives from journalism sociology and cultural studies to help explain why media paint Craigslist sex forums as spaces that foster illegal and immoral sex. The dissertation concludes that online sexuality must be added to definitions of deviance in news. It problematizes theories of representations of sexuality by alternative media, and it demonstrates that online sexuality is deeply intertwined with offline identity.

Whitney O. Walther-Martin
Happily ever persuaded? A look at the influence of character involvement, transportation, and emotion on perceived threat, reactance, and persuasion
Advisor: Daniel Wackman

Abstract

Narratives have been proven to be an effective means by which people are persuaded. However, the exact psychological mechanism(s) that is/are responsible for persuasion have been debated. Some argue the process of transportation is necessary in determining whether or not the persuasive message will succeed (e.g., Green & Brock, 2000; Green & Clark, 2013; Murphy et al., 2011). Others have found character involvement to influence attitudes (Banerjee & Greene, 2012; de Graaf, Hoeken, Sanders, & Beentjes, 2011; Igartua & Barrios, 2012), behavioral intentions, and actual behaviors in the context of narratives (Moyer-Gusé, Chung, & Jain, 2011). Other say it is a combination of psychological mechanisms that is responsible for attitudes message consistent and behavioral intentions (Slater & Rouner, 2002). Theories such as the entertainment overcoming resistance model (EORM) posit that narratives reduce consumers’ reactance, which then makes persuasion possible. This dissertation draws upon theories in both reactance (psychological reactance theory (PRT)) and narrative persuasion literature (EORM) in order to fulfill three objectives. First, this work uniquely identifies and distinguishes the role(s) transportation, character involvement, and/or emotional involvement play(s) in overcoming reactance. Second, this work distinguishes between perceived threat to freedom and reactance – a mediated process yet to be studied in narrative persuasion literature. Last, this dissertation explores the influence of reactance proneness as a moderating variable in the context of narratives. Results suggest a model that explains the relationship amongst the three psychological mechanisms and adds to reactance literature. Reactance was found to have direct effect on persuasion, though it is not a mediator of perceived threat and persuasion (as has been suggested in most PRT studies). Last, reactance proneness was, indeed, a moderating variable of the relationship between perceived threat and reactance. Suggestions for future studies in the area of reactance and narrative persuasion are offered.

Xuan Zhu
Can self-affirmation reduce defensive responses to health communication messages? - The role of self-esteem
Advisor: Marco Yzer

Abstract

This dissertation tested whether people’s strength of self-esteem moderates self-affirmation effects on health message processing. The findings from three studies (Study 1: N = 115, Study 2: N = 294, Study 3: N = 426) with three different behavior contexts (sunscreen use, flossing, and alcohol consumption reduction) suggest that individuals’ strength of self-esteem can moderate self-affirmation effects on health message processing: people with high and low levels of self-esteem may respond differently to self-affirmation based health communication interventions in certain situations. However, despite the theoretical coherence, evident inconsistencies exist across the three studies. Therefore, at this point, a clear conclusion regarding when self-affirmation benefits people with high versus low levels of self-esteem cannot yet be reached and specific suggestions on how self-affirmation should be used in health communication practices cannot be provided. Nonetheless, this research has shown that individuals’ self-esteem levels can influence the effectiveness of self-affirmation-based health communication interventions, and sometimes not in a desirable direction. Interventionists therefore should use caution when incorporating self-affirmation elements in health communication interventions as it may have positive effects for some, but weak or even adverse effects among others.

Master's Theses

2021 

Haoyi Lu
Donation Engagement: The Effect of Message Construal Level and Agent Knowledge
Advisor: Hyejoon Rim 

Abstract

Donation-matching program is increasingly receiving attention for its ability to generate more gift by matching the individual’s donation with a company’s donation. Previous studies have demonstrated the effect of matching structure on the donation engagement, yet little is known about the influence of the donation message frames and the company’s role in donation-matching. Based on previous literature on construal level theory, this study proposes the concept of message construal level to refer to the message frame that intends to cast the mental construal level. Guided by construal level theory and persuasion knowledge model, this present study employed 2*2*2 between-subjects experimental design and examined the effects of message construal level (i.e., why vs. how frame) and agent knowledge (i.e., corporate social responsibility history) on the donation desirability evaluation, donation attitude, and donation participation intention. The results showed that there were no significant effects of message construal level and agent knowledge, or the interaction effect of message construal level and agent knowledge, on the donation engagement. Limitations and suggestions for future research are also discussed.

Ran Ma
Narratives may not be as powerful as rumored: The persuasive impact of narrative types in the context of colorectal cancer screening
Advisor: Emily Vraga and Marco Yzer

Abstract

Narratives are found to be a promising tool of persuasion in health communication. Yet it is unclear what type of narratives function best. The primary objective of this study is to experimentally examine the effects of a narrative with a positive outlook, i.e. restorative narrative, and a narrative with a negative outlook, i.e. negative narrative, on colorectal cancer (CRC) knowledge, intention to seek CRC information and get CRC screening. I also tested whether exposure to CRC facts following a narrative can moderate narrative effects. Participants (N = 600 before screening, n = 359 after screening) read one of the narrative or nonnarrative messages with or without a fact sheet about CRC. The results indicated no difference in persuasive effects among different types of narratives, no moderation effect of exposure to CRC facts, but a positive influence of factual information on CRC knowledge. Implications of the results are discussed.

Nicole Zhang 
War of Words: Constructing National Images and International Relations in U.S. and Chinese News Discourses of Domestic and Foreign Protests 
Advisor: Giovanna Dell'Orto

Abstract

In the third decade of the 21st century, the relationship between the United States and China as two economic superpowers is at its most tense since the normalization of their ties in 1979. This project examined two U.S. newspapers, The New York Times (NYT) and The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), and two Chinese news media, The Global Times (GT) and Pengpai, and analyzed their discourses about the Hong Kong (HK) and Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests. The purpose is not only to compare coverage, but to learn how news media in the U.S. and China constructed each other’s national images when the two countries were in crises. Also, it looked at how national interests and international relations, as well as the different journalism fields in the U.S. and China, were reflected in their news coverage of the domestic protests and the overseas protests. This project analyzed a total of 582 news articles by using constructivism and Berger and Luckmann’s (1966) social construction of reality as the theoretical framework, and discourse analysis as the research method, and found that the national images the U.S. and Chinese formed of each other are not only negative but also similar. The images they constructed not only echoed their strained relations, but also their competition for a global reputation and status as a world leader. Tense Sino-U.S. relations were mirrored in the selected U.S. news coverage of the domestic and international protests, as the overseas protesters were portrayed more positively than domestic protesters, while overseas police were portrayed more negatively than domestic police. Nonetheless, the chosen Chinese news media’s negative portrayal of the overseas protesters did not merely break the ancient proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but suggested that apart from international relations, a country’s news discourse about protests might also reflect its cultural and racial background. 

 

 

Yansheng Liu
“After All They Don’t Know Me” - Examining the Psychological Mechanisms of Toxic Behavior in Honor of Kings
Advisor: Colin Agur

Abstract

Toxic behavior is commonplace in online games and has a series of negative consequences for players. Although previous studies have illustrated common types and themes of in-game toxic behavior, it remains unclear what psychological mechanism can explain why toxic behavior emerges and evolves in gaming environments.To fill in this research gap, guided by Online Disinhibition Effect theory, this current study applies a mixed-method approach to understand how and why people engage in toxic behavior in the game Honor of Kings, a popular Chinese mobile multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, and it also examines potential predictors of frequency of in-game toxic behavior. Specifically, using a qualitative interview approach, Study 1 illustrates the evolving process of both verbal and behavioral in-game toxic behavior, and identifies five major types of toxic players by motivations and three theoretical explanations for how the online gaming environment facilitates players’ toxic behavior. Using a quantitative survey approach, Study 2 examines how frequency of in-game toxic behavior is associated with age, gender, time spent playing, big-five personality traits and dark tetrad personality traits, as well as gaming motivation. Anonymity also plays a key role in facilitating in-game toxic behavior, and it is associated with more favorable attitudes and perceived norms towards in-game toxicity, less perceived consequences of toxicity and less impression management intention. Implications of this study on future research are also discussed.

 

 

Landon Graham
"Is this All A Joke to You": Metacommunication, Advocacy, and the Serious Side of Satire during the 2020 Election 
Advisor: Matt Carlson

Abstract

Political satire assumes that politicians are serious and earnest. The establishment of political norms allows comedians to level critiques through irony and laughter, providing unique perspective and questioning the status quo. But Donald Trump disrupted political and democratic norms during his presidency, relying on an entertainment aesthetic and using an insult-comic style to mock his opponents. This nonseriousness from the president disrupted the traditional process of political humor. This study examines how five U.S. television satire shows—Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Saturday Night Live, Last Week Tonight, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert—balanced seriousness and nonseriousness in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election. Comedians contextualized Trump as a threat to democracy and focused on the election as a moment for potential political change. With an underlying sense of outrage, comedians engaged in earnest advocacy against Trump while also engaging in metacommunication about their social role. This shift toward discourses of outrage and earnest advocacy has implications for the role of detached irony as the main mode of political humor.

 

Hanjie Liu 
Delay or Right Away? Synchronicity of Social Media Use and Its Impact on State Social Anxiety Arising from Social Media Use, State Rumination and Offline Social Anxiety 
Advisor: Sherri Katz 

Abstract 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the pervasive use of social media made huge influences on young adults’ psychological well-being, especially those with social anxieties. Guided by online disinhibition effects and response style theory, the current research conducted a between-subject online experiment (N = 193) with an even split of gender on Amazon MTurk. Findings show that asynchronous social media use increases individuals’ state interaction anxiety on social media compared to synchronous social media use. While state rumination does not mediate the relationship between synchronicity of social media use and state social anxiety arising from social media use (SASMU), it is a significant predictor of individuals’ state SASMU. In addition, findings show that offline social anxiety still matters most in online social interactions, with an overriding effect compared to the impact of one-time social media use. The present investigation sheds light on the relationship between the synchronicity of social media use and social anxiety.

Le Wang
The effects of lexical and discourse-based hedging in news stories of cancer screening and treatment on cancer-related behavioral beliefs and trust towards cancer scientists
Advisor: Rebekah Nagler 

Abstract

Hedging, a way to convey scientific uncertainty, could manifest in two different ways: lexical hedging (expression of uncertainty through linguistic elements such as “might,” “may,” and “likely”) and discourse-based hedging (expression of uncertainty through disclosing experimental weaknesses, lack of generalizability of study results, and so forth). Previous studies in cancer communication documented some positive effects of hedging on variables pertaining to cancer prevention and control, but they focused on discourse-based hedging. To assess and compare the effects of the two different types of hedging on people’s cancer-related behavioral beliefs and trust towards cancer scientists, an online survey experiment was conducted. No significant effects of hedging on beliefs or trust were found. The associations among variables of interests, including behavioral beliefs, trust, attitude, and behavioral intention, were examined, and the potential moderating role of research literacy was explored. Implications of the study’s results are discussed.

2020

Ida Darmawan
Unbranded Vs. Branded Direct-To-Consumer Advertising (Dtca) Using Social Media Influencers: Examining The Effects Of Message Type And Disclosure
Advisor: Jisu Huh

Abstract

Social media influencer (SMI) advertising is a recent tactic conducted by pharmaceutical companies to promote a disease or a prescription drug directly to consumers. This study examined the effects of unbranded and branded direct-to-consumer (DTC) SMI advertising along with the effects of sponsorship disclosure on consumers’ attitude toward the ad and behavioral intentions. The Persuasion Knowledge Model was used as theoretical framework to understand the underlying mechanism of these effects. An online experiment with a 2 (unbranded vs. branded) x 2 (disclosure absence vs. presence) between-subject factorial design was conducted. Results showed that the unbranded message led to a higher attitude toward the ad than the branded version, and this effect was mediated by persuasion knowledge activation. Similarly, the absence of disclosure resulted in a higher attitude toward the ad than the presence of disclosure. A significant interaction effect between message type and disclosure on persuasion knowledge activation was also found. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed.

Marisa Erickson
Corporate Sociality: An analysis of Twitter post directionality, functionality, and reciprocity of Fortune 100 companies
Advisor: Sherri Jean Katz

Abstract

This study discusses the use of the social media platform Twitter by Fortune 100 companies. A random sample of the 2019 Twitter posts of 20 Fortune 100 companies over 30 days are collected. These posts are analyzed using a new theoretical model, titled The Three Faces of Corporate Social Media Use, as adapted from Grunig’s (1984) Four Models of Public Relations. According to Grunig (1992), the best model for companies to utilize is a two-way symmetrical model that promotes openness, trust, and understanding between organizations and their audiences. Contrasting that idea, this research found that companies most often use posts that are self-promotional, in that the posts carry messages that are promoting aspects of the company or are marketing a product or service.

Joshua Jordan
Self-affirming values: Defensive processing of information about human embryonic stem-cell (hESC) research
Advisor: Rebekah Nagler

Abstract

Self-affirmation research suggests that affirming important values can reduce defensive responses to threatening information. However, whether this holds in the context of information about the life sciences is not clear. Integrating self-affirmation and values drawn from science communication research, the objective was to better understand core values associated with hESC research and to exclude these values from a subsequent self-affirmation intervention focusing on information about hESC research; and to test the hypothesis that self-affirming a value unrelated to hESC research would reduce defensive processing of information about it. Data were obtained from a pretest study survey and a main study experiment. In the pretest study (n = 315), several values were found to correlate with a favorable view of hESC research, but not opposition to it, since the sample was primarily individuals with a favorable view. A new list of values was thus adopted for the main study, which focused specifically on individuals opposed to hESC research. The main study (n = 113) showed that affirming a value unrelated to hESC research does not reduce defensive processing of information about it. The implications of these findings for science communication are discussed.

2019

Lanhuizi Gan
Actors, partisan inclination, and emotions: An analysis of government shutdown news stories shared on Twitter during Dec 2018 and Jan 2019
Advisor: Colin Agur

Abstract

Scholars have recognized emotion as an increasingly important element in the reception and retransmission of online information. Because of existing divergence in ideology, both in the audience and producer of news stories, political issues are prone to spark a lot of emotional contents online. This present study takes the 2018-2019 government shutdown as the subject of investigation. The results show the prominence in journalistic and political figures in leading the discussion of news stories, the nuance of emotions employed in the news frames, and the choice of pro-attitudinal news sharing.

Yunxin Liu
Emotional outcomes of social media multitasking during academic tasks
Advisor: Marco Yzer

Abstract

Focusing on the population of college students, the current study investigated the effects of synchronicity in social media multitasking on emotional outcomes (valence and arousal) in a laboratory experiment. Additionally, sensation seeking was proposed as a moderator between synchronicity and emotional outcomes. The results demonstrated that the synchronicity in social media multitasking impacts valence but not arousal levels. Additionally, no moderating effects of sensation seeking between synchronicity and emotional outcomes were found. Results of this study contribute to the understanding of media multitasking, a complex phenomenon with a great variety of tasks that can be involved. Future research should continue to advance the definition of synchronicity in media multitasking scenarios and understand its potential influences on emotional outcomes.

Yifan Tian
Mitigating the reactance to choice-restricting health messages through interdependent self-construal priming
Advisor: Sherri Jean Katz

Abstract

This study examined the possibility of mitigating psychological reactance to health messages through interdependent self-construal priming. With a 2 x 2 experiment, we manipulated (1) whether or not the health message restricts choice, and (2) whether or not a participant was primed with interdependent self-construal before seeing the message. Results showed that the choice-restricting message elicits greater perceived threat to freedom and psychological reactance. Participants who received an interdependent self-construal prime respond with lower levels of perceived threat to freedom when the message has low restriction to choice. However, the process did not increase message effectiveness. As the first research that focuses on the effects of situational self-construal priming in the context of psychological reactance theory, this study suggests the possibility to mitigate reactance through interdependent self-constual priming. Implications for future research and health message strategies are discussed.

2018

Clara Juarez Miro
The dialogue of the Deaf: A discourse analysis on the construction of the Catalan and Spanish identities in news media
Advisor: Giovanna Dell'Orto

Abstract

This study analyzes the role of the media in the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, a prototypical case study for secessionism among developed countries. Framing and discourse theory inform a content analysis to answer the following research questions: (1) How do national media construct Catalan identity in Spain? (2) How do national media construct Spanish identity in Spain? (3) How do Catalan regional media construct Spanish identity in Catalonia? (4) How do Catalan regional media construct Catalan identity in Catalonia? (5) How is the secessionist movement framed in both nation-wide and Catalan media? The analysis focuses on news at three milestones in Spain’s history: The autonomic pacts in 1981, which informed the current distribution of central and regional powers; the secessionist demonstration in 2012, which resulted in the Catalan government’s taking a pro-independence stance; and the ISIS terrorist attacks in Catalonia in 2017, which elevated the political tension between administrations.

2017

Meghan Erkkinen
The Role of activists in the news coverage of the case of Philando Castille 
Advisor: Amy O'Connor

Abstract

This paper examines the role of activists and social media in the news coverage of the controversial death of Philando Castile at the hands of police. Using the agenda-building framework, this paper found that no relationship existed between news coverage and the tweets of Black Lives Matter activists. The results of this paper suggest that journalists continue to use elite and official sources in constructing news narratives. This paper also supports previous research that suggests that journalists use social media in their news reporting, signaling a change in norms and routines. The implications of these findings for journalism, news consumers, and activist movements are discussed.

Nathan Leding
Facebook and television news: A qualitative analysis using Napoli's Theory of Engagement
Advisor: Kathleen Hansen

Abstract

In an effort to gain viewership, television stations put a lot of resources into the promotion of their newscasts. One way the stations reach the audience is through social media which has had a large impact on the way television news organizations connect with viewers. This qualitative analysis examines Facebook users' responses with regard to Facebook posts generated by television news stations. This study looks at how the audience uses media messages generated on Facebook.

Magdalene Lee
Exploring the intermedia agenda-setting relationships and frames in the high-choice media environment
Advisor: Sid Bedingfield

Abstract

This study seeks to better understand the role of intermedia agenda setting in the current “high choice” media environment. Going beyond traditional news providers, it examines agenda-setting influences during the 2016 presidential campaign across three distinct types of media: mainstream news media consisting of national newspapers, digital native news sites, and late-night comedy programs. Quantitative and qualitative content analyses were conducted to examine the issue agendas and the specific news frames used by the three media types. Spearman rank-order correlations revealed that the three issue agendas converged. Findings also showed an association between media types and frames used. Therefore, this study suggests that mainstream news media still play a dominant agenda- setting role despite the fragmenting of audiences. By ignoring the usual distinction between news and entertainment and focusing instead on what Williams and Delli Carpini refer to as politically relevant media, this study seeks to extend agenda-setting theory in the digital age.

Scott Memmel
Police body cameras: Historical context, ongoing debate, and where to go from here
Advisor: Jane Kirtley

Abstract

Calls for greater use of police body worn cameras (BWCs) gained widespread support after several unarmed black men were killed by law enforcement between 2014 and 2017. However, BWCs are being asked to solve problems far more complex than they appear on the surface. This paper begins by establishing the historical roots of distrust between the black community and police. Next, the paper proposes a theoretical framework and examines key issues, including (1) ideals of BWCs as an instrument of the search for truth and a means of greater police accountability, (2) potential limitations, including questions of reliability/accuracy, privacy, and costs, and (3) questions over access to footage. Finally, this paper uses recommendations by the American Civil Liberties Union and Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission to argue that although BWCs are not a panacea, they can still be part of the solution for the concerns they are meant to address.

Keonyoung Park
Effects of instant activism: How social media hoaxes mobilize publics on GMO labeling issues
Advisor: Hyejoon Rim

Abstract

This study explored how people publically engage with a politicized science issue in a social media environment. In exploring this engagement, this studied identified new types of pseudo-activism phenomena generated by participants and proposed the concept of instant activism. Instant activism suggests that sensational cues initiate heuristic information processing in the lay public. This study suggested that instant publics perform supportive actions as a reaction to instant activism. Further, this study examined the effect of social media hoaxes as a non-profit organization's wicked tool. For purposes of this study, GMO (genetically modification organisms) labeling in the US was explored as the politicized science issue. Grounded in two different theories, this study empirically examined both the perceptual and behavioral consequences of the new type of activism for the publics involved. Using motivated reasoning theory, Study 1 explored the development of instant activism by following the individuals’ cognitive process. Results demonstrated that exposure to a hoax strategy had a significant impact on motivating participants to quickly process and respond to GMO labeling issues. Study 2 addressed the behavioral aspects of the instant public, building on the situational theory of problem solving. Results indicated that exposure to a hoax increased an individual’s active communicative actions but had no effect on that individual’s passive actions and embedded principles regarding GMO labeling issues. This early attempt to empirically examine social media hoaxes and GMO labeling issues discussed the theoretical and practical implications of the results.

Kendall Paige Tich
Tweeting the storm: A SCCT approach to NPOs' Twitter communications during Hurricane Matthew
Advisor: Colin Agur

Abstract

Hurricane Matthew, one of recent history’s most devastating natural disasters, had a severe impact on parts of the Southeastern U.S. and Haiti. This research looked at how four non-profit organizations, The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army USA, Hope for Haiti, and World Vision Haiti, used Twitter to communicate crisis response strategies with the public. Guided by the SCCT, this study implemented a qualitative textual analysis of the organizations’ Tweets in the pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis phases of the disaster. The research findings indicated a disconnect between theoretical response recommendations and Twitter communication. Recommendations for practical implications of this research included a need for greater consideration, on the part of practitioners, organizations, and others involved in crisis communication, of SCCT response recommendations, Twitter as a unique and growing communication outlet, and target audience of response strategies and crisis communication.

Sarah Wiley
Algorithms, machine learning, and speech: The future of the First Amendment in a digital world
Advisor: Jane Kirtley

Abstract

We increasingly depend on algorithms to mediate information and thanks to the advance of computation power and big data, they do so more autonomously than ever before. At the same time, courts have been deferential to First Amendment defenses made in light of new technology. Computer code, algorithmic outputs, and arguably, the dissemination of data have all been determined as constituting “speech” entitled to constitutional protection. However, continuing to use the First Amendment as a barrier to regulation may have extreme consequences as our information ecosystem evolves. This paper focuses on developing a new approach to determining what should be considered “speech” if the First Amendment is to continue to protect the marketplace of ideas, individual autonomy, and democracy.