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“It’s Global Warming, Stupid”: Aggressive Communication Styles and Political Ideology in Science Blog Debates About Climate Change

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Abstract

The current study examined the effects of aggressive communication styles on individuals’ pro-environmental behavioral intentions. Two underlying mechanisms—psychological reactance and expectancy violation—as well as the moderating role played by political ideology were investigated. An online experiment ( N = 423) was conducted and the results showed that more aggressive style was more likely to trigger psychological reactance and violation of expectation, liberals responded more negatively to the aggressive message than conservatives, and expectancy violation was an important mediator. The findings provide explanations for how communication styles affect individuals’ information processing and offer implications regarding selecting communication styles wisely.

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... Aggressive messages can jeopardize the communicator's credibility (Thorson et al., 2010) and trustworthiness (Lau et al., 2007), and therefore influence the relationship between communicator and audience (Ferreira et al., 2021;König and Jucks, 2019). Individuals are less likely to have the desired behavioral intentions after exposure to an aggressive message that is meant to be persuasive (Yuan and Lu, 2020). ...
... For instance, in health communication contexts, Miller et al. (2007) found that controlling messages, which are similar to aggression, lead to more anger and more negative assessments of message fairness. Similar findings were also observed in the context of climate change messaging (Yuan and Lu, 2020). When it comes to humorous messages, a study on persuasive health messages found that humor decreases reactance through eliciting positive emotions (Skalski et al., 2009). ...
... Studies on psychological reactance (Dillard and Shen, 2005), message discounting (Nabi et al., 2007), and expectancy violation (Yuan and Lu, 2020) have all provided evidence that these aspects of message processing can influence behavioral intentions. In brief, these studies suggested that psychological reactance and expectancy violation, as processing factors, are negatively associated with behavioral intentions promoted in messages, while message discounting is positively associated with behavioral intentions. ...
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The current study investigated how individuals process aggressive and humorous video messages communicating childhood vaccination and climate change. Employing psychological reactance, message discounting and expectancy violation, we built a theoretical model that explains the effects of communication styles on individuals’ activism intentions. Two online experiments in the United States (N = 441 and N = 533) using self-created videos on the topics of childhood vaccination and climate change were conducted to examine this model. The results showed that both perceived aggressiveness and humorousness of the videos led to higher message discounting, which then resulted in stronger activism intentions. Perceived aggressiveness led to higher expectancy violation, while perceived humorousness led to lower expectancy violation, which negatively affected activism intentions. The role played by psychological reactance was inconsistent across the two contexts. The findings provide theoretical implications for understanding how individuals process aggressive and humorous communication styles, especially in relation to discussions on science issues.
... In response to such challenges, science communicators have developed strategies such as message framing and narratives to reduce counterarguing and increase compliance with scientific recommendations (Liu and Yang, 2020a). Among them, aggressive communication is characterized with intense tones and attacks on person or persons who oppose the communicator's view (Yuan and Lu, 2020). There has been a tradition of using aggressive communication style to demean competitors in political contexts such as campaign advertisements and rallies (Lau et al., 2007). ...
... Although aggressive communication often emerges in interpersonal interactions, its existence goes beyond the singular environment and has been studied in other contexts such as mass communication (Seiter and Gass, 2010) and organizational communication (Johnson, 2012;Myers, 2002). Recent science communication studies have also begun to recognize the use and function of aggressive style in disseminating science information such as information related to genetically modified organisms (GMO) and climate change (Yuan et al., 2019b;Yuan and Lu, 2020). Research shows that aggressive communication can sometimes generate positive effects during communication processes. ...
... EVT is a viable perspective to untangle the complex interplay of communication, relational, and contextual factors in shaping the influence of aggressiveness on persuasion outcomes (Burgoon and Hale, 1988;Yuan and Lu, 2020). EVT states that people hold certain expectations of others' behaviors in communication. ...
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This study examined the influences of perceived distance to communicator on the effects of aggressive style (i.e. personal attacks and intense languages) in communicating scientific issues such as COVID-19 to the public. With a multi-site experiment ( N = 464), we found that aggression led to a heightened violation of expected social norm regarding communication styles. However, the interpretation of violation varied depending on the individual’s perceived distance to the communicator. Close distance articulated the urgency and severity of COVID-19 risks conveyed with aggression, which further increased compliance with the message. Far distance perception amplified aggression’s negative influence on writer likeability. The findings showed that aggressive communication may generate positive outcomes when dealing with public understanding of scientific issues such as COVID-19, but communicators need to build a closer connection with their audience.
... Central to psychological reactance theory is the notion that messages trigger reactance and behavioral boomerangs when they arouse perceived threats to freedom, which implies that RAs may trigger reactance, more so than NRAs. Notably, using aggressive messages to promote proenvironmental behaviors triggers greater reactance than non-aggressive ones (Yuan & Lu, 2020). Forceful or controlling messages can trigger perceived threats and motivate recipients to resist the messages; as a result, people exhibit lower intentions to comply with the advocated behaviors (Miller et al., 2007;Quick & Kim, 2009;Quick & Stephenson, 2008). ...
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This study compares information campaign messages that appeal to personal responsibility versus those that do not, in attempts to promote efforts to reduce the threat of global warming. In two scenarios, self-efficacy moderates the effects of responsibility appeals on behavioral intentions through perceived consumer effectiveness and self-accountability, but with different patterns, such that the appeals might empower people or else trigger their reactance. In the first scenario (Studies 1 and 3), people are induced to believe that the messages are credible, and responsibility appeals empower participants; behaviors associated with high self-efficacy, but not low self-efficacy, increase the effects of responsibility appeals relative to non-responsibility appeals. In a second scenario, without cues signaling strong credibility, such as when identifiable sources are not present (Study 2) or are not highly credible (Study 3), responsibility appeals trigger reactance; behaviors associated with low/high self-efficacy decrease/increase the effects of responsibility appeals.
... Siyasal aktörlerin siyasal iletişim tarzı, büyük ölçüde siyaset anlayışlarıyla ilişkilidir. Kullanılan dil ile siyasal eğilimler arasında belirli bir ilişki olduğu kabul edilmektedir (Skidmore, 1994;Cedroni, 2013;Yuan ve Lu, 2020). Bu durum yerel siyasal iletişim için de geçerlidir ve yerel siyasal aktörlerin siyasal iletişim tarzları ile bu aktörlerin yerel siyaset anlayışları örtüşmektedir. ...
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Twitter has become a critical political communication channel in Turkey. This situation is also valid for local politics, and all may-ors of metropolitan municipalities extensively use Twitter accounts. Twitter messages could be analyzed for determining the communication styles of the account user. This research analyses the official Twitter accounts and content of 1400 messages each sent from these accounts, by Melih Gökçek, ex-Mayor of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, and by Aziz Kocaoğlu, ex-Mayor of İzmir Metropolitan Municipality. Findings of the analysis revealed that Gökçek’s tweets were less focused on the city he is responsible for, as compared to Kocaoğlu’s tweets. While most of Gökçek’s tweets were about the opposition party and world politics, with an aggressive tone, Kocaoğlu’s tweets were more focused on İzmir and relatively constructive. It is concluded that these political communication style differences may be attributable to both the differences in their poli-tics in general and local politics in particular. Twitter, Türkiye’de önemli bir siyasal iletişim aracı haline gelmiştir. Bu durum, yerel siyaset için de geçerlidir ve tüm büyükşehir belediye başkanları Twitter hesaplarını yoğun bir şekilde kullanmaktadırlar. Twitter hesaplarından gönderilen mesajlar, kullanıcının siyasal iletişim tarzını belirlemek için önemli ipuçları sunmaktadır. Bu çalışmada Ankara Büyükşehir Belediyesi eski başkanı Melih Gökçek’in ve İzmir Büyükşehir Belediyesi eski başkanı Aziz Kocaoğlu’nun resmi Twitter hesapları ve bu hesaplardan gönderilen 1400’er mesaj içeriği anal-iz edilmiştir. Bu analiz sonucunda, Gökçek’in yönettiği kentle ilgili mesajlarının yoğunluğunun, Kocaoğlu’nun yönettiği kentle ilgili mesajların yoğunluğuna göre daha az olduğu saptanmıştır. Gökçek’in mesajlarının önemli bir bölümü ana mu-halefet partisi ve dünya siyaseti üzerinedir ve kullanılan siyasal iletişim dili serttir. Mesajlarını daha çok İzmir üzerine yoğunlaştıran Kocaoğlu ise görece daha olumlu bir siyasal iletişim dili kullanmaktadır. Bu siyasal iletişim tarzı farklılıklarının, söz konusu iki siyasetçinin genel olarak siyaset, özel olarak da yerel siyaset anlayışlarının farklılığıyla ilişkilendirilebileceği değerlendirilmektedir.
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The present study investigated the effects of communication styles, source expertise, and audiences’ preexisting attitudes in the contexts of the debate regarding genetically modified organisms. A between-subject experiment (N = 416) was conducted manipulating communication styles (aggressive vs. polite) and the expertise of the communicator (scientist vs. nonscientist) in blog articles. The results showed significant effects of communicator expertise and individuals’ preexisting attitudes on writer likability and message quality, depending on the communication style used. Expectancy violation was found as a significant mediator that explains the differences. These findings provided a plausible explanation for the way in which communication styles work in science communication contexts and offered practical implications for science communicators to communicate more strategically.
Chapter
Because satirical news programs such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report pay substantial attention to science, this chapter considers their significance as sources of science attitudes and information. The first section of the chapter discusses general attributes of satirical news and how these may help foster public attention to, active engagement with, and understanding of science. The chapter then highlights limitations on the capacity of satire to communicate science, including the challenge of conveying the seriousness of certain science issues while using humor, the potential for audience misreading of satiric intention, the inherent divisiveness of satire, and the tension between communication goals and the authenticity of satiric performance. The chapter draws on studies that have explicitly analyzed the role of satirical news programs in a science communication context while also raising important unanswered research questions.
Article
This study demonstrates how communication research can be strategically applied to address environmental problems in modern societies. To accomplish this goal, this research advances an integrated communication model based on psychological reactance theory and the theory of planned behavior to explain negative attitude change that can occur when people are exposed to water conservation campaigns [Liang, Y. J., Henderson, L.K., & Kee, K. F. (2017). Running out of water! Developing a message typology and evaluating message effects on attitude toward water conservation. Environmental Communication. doi:10.1080/17524032.2017.1288648]. The data fit the hypothesized model, synthesizing message-, social-, and individual-based processes to predict their effects on behavioral intention towards water conservation. Interestingly, data show that (1) combinations of message strategies affect reactance differently, and (2) subjective norm and perceived behavioral control negatively correlated with threat to freedom. These results point to the practical implication that environmental communication to promote voluntary water conservation are effective when campaign messages are designed to reduce threat to freedom, induce social norms, and increase self-efficacy. We call the documented research process strategic environmental communication, which focuses on the joint application of evidence and theory towards addressing environmentally motivated problems.
Book
At a time of radical shifts in power across the globe, the sixth edition of An Introduction to Political Communication examines the role of the media in the political process. Brian McNair reflects on the role of communication in key events such as the referendum vote for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the rise of nationalist populism in Europe, and the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election. He explores the use of communication as a weapon by Islamic State and other insurgent organisations, and by Putin’s Russia in its dealings with the West, including the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016. McNair argues that an expanding globalised public sphere and digital media network have transformed political communication, allowing political actors, from politicians and pressure groups to trade unions and terrorist organisations, to bypass traditional, established media in communicating their messages. This sixth edition of McNair’s classic text has been comprehensively revised and updated to include: the 2016 US presidential election and Donald Trump’s rise to power; the UK’s EU referendum of 2016, the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 and the ‘snap’ UK general election of June 2017; the growing role in political communication of the internet and social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and their destabilising impact on the management of political crises all over the world including the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 and the disappearance of MH370, the Tianjin disaster in China and the Russian intervention in Ukraine; Islamic State’s global jihad, and the use of social media as an instrument of terror; the growing capacity of WikiLeaks and other online sources, such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, to challenge elite control of information.
Article
Science blogs have become an increasingly important component of the ecosystem of science news on the Internet. Through a survey of 2,955 readers of 40 randomly selected science blogs, we created profiles of science blog users. Super users indicated reading science blogs for a wide range of reasons, including for community-seeking purposes. One-way entertainment users indicated reading blogs more for entertainment and ambiance. Unique information-seeking users indicated reading blogs more for specific information not found elsewhere. But regardless of science blog users’ motivations to read, they are sophisticated consumers of science media possessing high levels of scientific knowledge.
Article
This article examines the science-of-science-communication measurement problem. In its simplest form, the problem reflects the use of externally invalid measures of the dynamics that generate cultural conflict over risk and other policy-relevant facts. But at a more fundamental level, the science-of-science-communication measurement problem inheres in the phenomena being measured themselves. The “beliefs” individuals form about a societal risk such as climate change are not of a piece; rather they reflect the distinct clusters of inferences that individuals draw as they engage information for two distinct ends: to gain access to the collective knowledge furnished by science and to enjoy the sense of identity enabled by membership in a community defined by particular cultural commitments. The article shows how appropriately designed “science comprehension” tests—one general and one specific to climate change—can be used to measure individuals’ reasoning proficiency as collective-knowledge acquirers independently of their reasoning proficiency as cultural-identity protectors. Doing so reveals that there is in fact little disagreement among culturally diverse citizens on what science knows about climate change. The source of the climate-change controversy and like disputes over societal risks is the contamination of the science-communication environment with forms of cultural status competition that make it impossible for diverse citizens to express their reason as both collective-knowledge acquirers and cultural-identity protectors at the same time.
Article
Despite strong agreement among scientists, public opinion surveys reveal wide partisan disagreement on climate issues in the United States. We suggest that this divide may be exaggerated by questionnaire design variables. Following a brief literature review, we report on a national survey experiment involving U.S. Democrats and Republicans (n = 2,041) (fielded August 25-September 5, 2012) that examined the effects of question wording and order on the belief that climate change exists, perceptions of scientific consensus, and support for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Wording a questionnaire in terms of global warming (versus climate change) reduced Republicans' (but not Democrats') existence beliefs and weakened perceptions of the scientific consensus for both groups. Moreover, global warming reduced Republicans' support for limiting greenhouse gases when this question immediately followed personal existence beliefs but not when the scientific consensus question intervened. We highlight the importance of attending to questionnaire design in the analysis of partisan differences.
Article
Psychological reactance ( Brehm, 1966 ; Brehm & Brehm, 1981 ) has been a long‐standing topic of interest among scholars studying the design and effects of persuasive messages and campaigns. Yet, until recently, reactance was considered to be a motivational state that could not be measured. Dillard and Shen (2005) argued that reactance can be conceptualized as cognition and affect and made amenable to direct measurement. This article revisits Dillard and Shen's (2005) questions about the nature of psychological reactance and reports a test designed to identify the best fitting model of reactance. A meta‐analytic review of reactance research was conducted (K = 20, N = 4,942) and the results were used to test path models representing competing conceptualizations of reactance. The results offer evidence that the intertwined model—in which reactance is modeled as a latent factor with anger and counterarguments serving as indicators—best fit the data.
Article
Swearing is a frequent language form in a number of contexts, including the work setting. This investigation extends research on expectancy violations theory as an explanation for how people perceive swearing by examining violation valence. Study 1 concludes that violation valence is positively related to perceptions of message appropriateness and effectiveness and to perceptions of the speaker. Study 2 replicates these findings using a national sample. These results provide support for the role of expectancy violations in swearing and show that swearing is not always perceived as negative in work settings.
Article
This study examined the relationship between perceived instructor aggressiveness (i.e., argumentativeness, verbal aggressiveness) and student outcomes (i.e., state motivation, affective learning, cognitive learning, satisfaction). Participants were 96 undergraduate students enrolled at a small midwestern university. Results indicate that students’ reports of instructors who are perceived as both high in argumentativeness and low in verbal aggressiveness were positively correlated with their own reports of state motivation, affective learning, cognitive learning, and satisfaction. Future research should continue to explore the role that perceived instructor argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness plays in the college classroom.
Article
This study examined the effects of variation in language intensity on the perceived aggressiveness of sentences representing five empirically established levels of verbal aggression. Subjects read and rated the aggressiveness of replicated sentences in which the level of verbal aggression and language intensity had been systematically varied. Tests of the hypothesized relationship between language intensity, verbal aggression and perceived aggressiveness gave evidence that frequency adverbs do affect the perceived aggressiveness of sentences at most levels of verbal aggression. Increasing language intensity increases perceived verbal aggression only at low levels of verbal aggression; decreasing language intensity is most effective at higher levels of verbal aggression.
Article
We examine whether conservative white males are more likely than are other adults in the U.S. general public to endorse climate change denial. We draw theoretical and analytical guidance from the identity-protective cognition thesis explaining the white male effect and from recent political psychology scholarship documenting the heightened system-justification tendencies of political conservatives. We utilize public opinion data from ten Gallup surveys from 2001 to 2010, focusing specifically on five indicators of climate change denial. We find that conservative white males are significantly more likely than are other Americans to endorse denialist views on all five items, and that these differences are even greater for those conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well. Furthermore, the results of our multivariate logistic regression models reveal that the conservative white male effect remains significant when controlling for the direct effects of political ideology, race, and gender as well as the effects of nine control variables. We thus conclude that the unique views of conservative white males contribute significantly to the high level of climate change denial in the United States.
Article
This report reviews the construct of expectancy and its relevance to understanding communication phenomena. Given the shortage of empirically based knowledge about what constitute expected and unexpected interpersonal behaviors and how they are evaluated, a two-part experiment was conducted to determine the expectedness and evaluation of three nonverbal variables: touch, conversational distance, and posture. The possible moderating effects of communicator attractiveness, status, and gender were also examined. Respondents (N = 622) viewed photographs of an attractive or unattractive male or female stimulus interacting with a male or female partner, attributed to be of same, higher, or lower status, who displayed one of seven forms of touch or one of nine combinations of posture and proximity. Respondents rated the appropriateness, typicality, and desirability of the observed behavior. Results demonstrated that several behaviors are expected and positively valenced, while others qualify as positive or negative violations of expectations. Attractiveness influenced expectancies and evaluations; gender and status had limited effects. Implications for information processing and nonverbal expectancy violations theory are discussed.
Article
The study tested six axioms concerning the effect of language intensity on receiver attitudes. The axioms specify source and receiver variables which might moderate the relationship between intensity and attitude change. The results were consistent with an information processing model based on message discrepancy, expectancy and elaboration likelihood theories. Intensity affected attitudes through three routes. First, intensity increased attitude change via message clarity, with clarity acting as a mediator variable. Second, intensity inter acted with discrepancy and perceived source likeability to produce attitude change. Third, the effect of intensity on attitudes was moderated by source expectations. Results showed that intensity enhances persuasiveness for a high credibility source, inhibits persuasiveness for a low credibility source, and has no effect for a moderate credibility source. Receiver anxiety moderated the effect of source gender expectations on the intensity-attitude relationship. A revised model of intensity effects, based on axioms derived from information processing theory and expectancy theory, is discussed.
Article
Research has already highlighted the strained relationships between scientists and journalists. Scientists generally criticize journalists for being over-simplistic, while journalists criticize researchers for being non-communicative. However, with the advent of Web 2.0, some researchers became more communicative by creating their own blogs. This article explores the various channels used for the dissemination of science news and how journalists and scientists who blog see each other. First, the study interviews science journalists in Belgium and France, to examine the criteria that they use to evaluate the credibility of science blogs. Second, interviews conducted with science bloggers reveal the reasons that prompted them to create a blog, and, if applicable, why they have become disillusioned with science journalism. This article discusses the online relationships between science journalists and science bloggers. The findings of this study show that science journalists do not generally see science blogs as valuable sources of information. At the same time, it confirms that some scientists use their blogs to circumvent traditional media.
Article
In the new media environment, hard news stories are no longer found solely in the “A” section of the paper or on the front page of a news Web site. They are now distributed widely, appearing in contexts as disparate as a partisan blog or your own e-mail inbox, forwarded by a friend. In this study, we investigate how the credibility of a news story is affected by the context in which it appears. Results of an experiment show a news story embedded in an uncivil partisan blog post appears more credible in contrast. Specifically, a blogger's incivility highlights the relative credibility of the newspaper article. We also find that incivility and partisan disagreement in an adjacent blog post produce stronger correlations between ratings of news and blog credibility. These findings suggest that news story credibility is affected by context and that these context effects can have surprising benefits for news organizations. Findings are consistent with predictions of social judgment theory.
Article
A considerable number of studies have provided empirical evidence of people's perception of media bias—the hostile media effect (HME). This study conducts a meta-analysis of 34 HME studies. HME, in which individuals perceive news coverage as biased against their own side, is observed in diverse contexts with a moderate effect size. Involvement is a moderating variable of the effect: The effect size was significantly higher as people became more involved with the topic. Nonetheless, the phenomenon also manifests under relatively low involvement conditions. The meta-analysis also indicates that there is no statistical evidence to suggest that the media format (e.g., newspaper or television) or study design (i.e., experimental or survey) moderates HME.