Science Communication 2009 Abstracts

Science Communication Interest Group

Psychological responses to environmental messages: The roles of environmental values, message issue distance, message efficacy and idealistic construal • Lee Ahern, Penn State • This study examines the roles of message distance and efficacy in psychological responses to environmental communications, and introduces construal level, specifically idealistic values versus pragmatic concerns, as a mediating variable through which values manifest themselves in pro-environmental attitudes and behavioral intentions. Idealistic construals were found to significantly mediate the values-attitude and values-intentions relationships, and issue distance was found to enhance efficaciousness. Implications and possibilities for future research are discussed.

Low-fat, no-fat and sugar free: Adolescents’ media use, knowledge of nutrition, food preferences, and attitudes toward healthy eating and exercise • Kim Bissell, University of Alabama • Several studies have examined the convergence of increasing obesity rates and the psychosocial effects it may have on adolescents’ perceptions of weight in themselves and others, but surprising little attention is given to children’s knowledge of nutrition and their food preferences based on their time spent with the media.

Audience framing of a slow-motion technological disaster • Camille Broadway, University of Texas at Arlington; Rebecca Cline, Karmanos Cancer Center/Wayne State University • This study used focus groups and in-depth interviews to explore audience-based frames of an environmental disaster in Libby, Montana. Because of widespread and long-term asbestos exposure in Libby, residents of the town are suffering from what can be classified as a slow-motion technological disaster. In looking at how residents framed the issues surrounding the disaster, two primary frames emerged: citizen justice and town survival.

Science on television: Recent trends in portrayals and their contributions to public attitudes toward science • Anthony Dudo, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin Madison; James Shanahan, Fairfield University; Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Michael Morgan, UMass; Nancy Signorielli, University of Delaware • Twenty five years after Gerbner et al. seminal report on television and science attitudes, there is a need to update the data on portrayals of science and to approach the cultivation question with more sophisticated analyses. The present study addresses this need by analyzing images of science in television between 2000-2006. We then examine the potential relationships between exposure to television and attitudes toward science with an in-depth analysis of 2006 General Social Survey (GSS) data.

It Depends on What You’ve Heard: Exploring the Risk Perception-Attitude Link Across Different Applications of Nanotechnology • Michael Cacciatore, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Elizabeth Corley, University of Wisconsin-Madison • Recent research in nanotechnology has primarily focused on broad risk vs. benefit perceptions, ignoring attitudes toward specific applications. This study builds on previous research and explores the extent to which a variety of factors, including value predispositions, media use, knowledge, and risk and benefit perceptions influence attitudes toward nanotechnology.

“Who’s Minding the Storm: Hierarchical Regression Analysis of Factors Predicting Hurricane Preparedness” • Steve Collins, University of Central Florida; Harry Weger, University of Central Florida; Mark Johnson, University of Central Florida • This study sought to develop a better understanding of what Florida residents know about hurricane preparedness and how the mass media can be used to more effectively transmit potentially life-saving information. It is sobering how little some people knew about hurricane preparedness.

Getting Citizens Involved: How controversial science policy debates stimulate issue participation during a political campaign • Kajsa Dalrymple, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Amy Becker, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin Madison; Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Al Gunther, University of Wisconsin-Madison • This study tests the relative mobilizing effects of predispositional factors and attention to media content during a gubernatorial race that focused heavily on stem cell research as a salient campaign issue. Our analyses are based on a statewide telephone survey (N=508 in June-July 2006) conducted prior to the midterm and gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin. Results show that ideological predispositions and attention to both newspaper and online media best explain issue participation.

The emergence of nano news: Tracking thematic trends and changes in media coverage of nanotechnology • Anthony Dudo, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Sharon Dunwoody, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin – Madison • Mediated messages can influence awareness and knowledge gain for issues that are novel or for which citizens have few pre-existing attitudes and knowledge structures. The emerging science of nanotechnology is one such issue. In this study we explore characteristics of nanotechnology media coverage. We track the thematic contours of these stories, introduce methodological strategies to elevate the rigor of subsequent analyses, and consider the implications of our findings for news coverage of future emergent technologies.

Women’s Magazine Coverage of Heart Disease Risk Factors: Good Housekeeping Magazine, 1997 to 2007 • Carolyn Edy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill • Women continue to underestimate their risk for heart disease. A textual analysis of the portrayal of women’s risk factors for heart disease in articles published by Good Housekeeping magazine from 1997 to 2007 and in corresponding information endorsed by the American Heart Association found that the magazine coverage, while largely consistent with AHA information, targeted women at low risk for heart disease and never mentioned race as a risk factor.

Efficacy Information in Media Coverage of Infectious Disease Risks: An Ill Predicament? • Darrick Evensen, Cornell University; Christopher Clarke, Cornell University • Scholars have identified efficacy as an important component of risk communication. Previous research, however, reveals that a meager percentage of newspaper articles transmit efficacy information. In this paper, we present content analyses of newspaper coverage concerning West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza and analyze provision of efficacy information. Our results indicate greater provision of efficacy information than previously reported. We discuss possible reasons for departure from previous findings and conclude with implications for risk communication.

Health risk as a threat to freedom: Exploring the role of psychological reactance in reactions to West Nile Virus news coverage • Timothy Fung, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Elliott Hillback, University of Wisconsin – Madison • This experiment applies Psychological Reactance to understand people’s reactions to news about the risk of West Nile Virus. While manipulating gain/loss framing and risk likelihood presented as fractions or percentages, we also investigate the utility of trait uncertainty as a predictor and feelings of distress as an indicator of reactance. Results suggest Psychological Reactance may be useful in interpreting reactions to health risk news, and that trait uncertainty and state distress may enrich its conceptualization.

Promises and Challenges of Teaching Statistical Reasoning to Journalism Undergraduates: Twin Surveys of Department Heads • Robert Griffin, Marquette University; Sharon Dunwoody, University of Wisconsin-Madison • Surveys of journalism department heads in 1997 and 2008 showed general support for journalism students being able to reason with statistical information. Stronger support was associated, in particular, with the perception that this cognitive skill would give students an advantage in the journalism job market.

One or Many? The Influence of Episodic and Thematic Climate Change Frames • Philip Hart, Cornell University • This study examines the impact that different methods of framing climate change risk have on predispositions for behavior change and support for policies that address climate change.

Two-Sided Messages and Pandemic Flu: Persuading the Public to Follow Contradictory Government Directives • Karen Hilyard, University of Tennessee • Using exploratory one-on-one interviews (N=19) followed by a 2 x 3, post-test-only experiment with a representative national probability sample (N=443), this study investigates effective ways of persuading the public to follow two inherently-contradictory but critical government health directives during a flu pandemic: “social distancing” and centralized public distribution of medicines and supplies, (referred to here as “public queuing”). The study examines the effect of two-sided messages on perceived source credibility and behavioral intention.

Value Predispositions, Mass Media, and Attitudes toward Nanotechnology: The Interplay of Public and Experts • Shirley Ho, Nanyang Technological University; Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin – Madison; Elizabeth Corley, University of Wisconsin-Madison • This study examines the factors influencing public and experts’ perceptions of nanotechnology and addresses the pertinent question of whether experts are indeed more objective in their judgment of nanotechnology than do the public. First, compared with the experts, the results demonstrate that the public judged nanotechnology as having more risks and lesser benefits and indicated lesser support for federal funding of nanotechnology.

Public meetings about local cancer cluster investigations: Exploring the relative influence of conventional vs. symbolic risk communication on attendees’ post-meeting concern • Katherine McComas, Cornell University; Helen Brown, Cornell Univeristy; Craig Trumbo, Colorado State University • This study examines the relative influence of official versus unofficial risk messages on concern about cancer clusters in six U.S. communities. As part of a larger study of cancer clusters, we obtained written responses from 125 individuals who attended an official public meeting in their community about a suspected cancer cluster. We asked respondents why attending the meeting made them feel more or less concerned.

Examination of newspaper coverage of a controversial scientific technology • Jane W. Peterson, Greenlee School Iowa State University; Jennifer Scharpe, Iowa State University • This case study examines newspaper coverage of a controversial scientific issue, cloning of food animals. This analysis of selected newspaper articles about meat cloning uses a multidimensional approach designed with concepts from social amplification and attenuation of risk. The study uses tenets of this framework to examine the attention afforded the issue, the information provided by sources, the framing of that information, and the directionality of those frames.

Crisis communication during beef recalls due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination • Jennifer Scharpe, Iowa State University • This study aims to evaluate the quantity and quality of crisis communication efforts during one specific type of public health emergency, beef recalls due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination. A content analysis of 452 US newspaper reports immediately following 36 individual beef recalls issued from 2003 to 2008 was conducted. The findings indicate that the type of media coverage, the sources used, and the messages communicated led to the attenuation of risks associated with beef recalls.

Buying Green or Being Green: Environmental Consciousness Frames in Teen Girl Magazines • Alexandra Smith, Penn State University; Denise Bortree, Penn State University • Studies of environmental communication have rarely focused on teen girls. Though youth show greater interest in addressing environmental issues than adults, teen girls lag behind in their knowledge of environmental issues. This paper reports a framing study of environmental issues in 19 teen girl magazines.

Adolescents’ Wishful Identification with Scientist Characters on Television • Jocelyn Steinke, Western Michigan University; Brooks Applegate, Western Michigan University; Maria Lapinski, Michigan State University; Marilee Long, Colorado State University; Lisa Ryan, Lakeview High School • Adolescents’ wishful identification (WID) with scientist characters on television is important to examine because these characters may serve as occupational role models. This study examined adolescents’ WID with televised scientist characters and found differences for interactions related to sex of the television viewer, sex of the television character, television program, and specific attributes exhibited by the television character.

Online Sources of Health Information: An analysis of local TV Web sites • Andrea Tanner, University of South Carolina; Daniela Friedman, University of South Carolina • This study provides a nationwide examination of health news on local television Web sites to evaluate resources and sources used to develop online health stories. Specifically, this content analysis assessed the specific sources of information (e.g. medical journal, government spokesperson, etc.), individuals directly quoted and authorship of television news online content.

Comprehension of science and technology hypertext: Cognitive flexibility or construction integration? • Ronald Yaros, University of Maryland • Competing cognitive theories (a linear construction integration model versus the nonlinear cognitive flexibility theory) are tested for two stories, one about health and the other nanotechnology. Non-expert participants (N = 301) were tested for situational interest in and understanding of the stories. In support of the linear model, results indicated more reader interest and understanding of linearly structured text but only when combined with linear links.

Attention to Science/Environment News Promotes and Attention to Political News Undermines Global Warming Concern and Policy Support • Xiaoquan Zhao, George Mason University; Anthony Leiserowitz, Yale University; Edward Maibach, George Mason University; Connie Roser-Renouf, George Mason University • News coverage of the science of global warming has shifted away from the often criticized balanced reporting in recent years. However, controversy remains the dominant theme in the political coverage of this issue.

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