Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD

Program

School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

William D. Crano

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Dale E. Berger

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jason T. Siegel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Janis Kupersmidt

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2012 Erica Lynn Rosenthal

Abstract

In today's fast-paced, hyper-mediated society, the ability to balance accuracy and efficiency is essential. Media literacy educational programs have arisen to meet this need and proliferated in recent years. Although the practice of media literacy is thriving, its underlying mechanisms are poorly understood and evidence of effectiveness is mixed (e.g., Bergsma & Carney, 2008). A social psychological perspective has the potential to illuminate previously overlooked variables and inform research and practice in this growing field. In particular, whereas media literacy efforts typically emphasize thorough processing of media messages, dual-process theories of persuasion (e.g., Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) suggest this is not always realistic. When motivation or ability is compromised, individuals default to a low-effort processing mode, relying on peripheral cues or heuristics rather than carefully evaluating message arguments. In this mode, media messages can persuade unconsciously.

Using a dual-process approach, the present research investigated how specific barriers to motivation (perceptions of personal invulnerability) and processing ability (emotion-based advertising, environmental distractions) influence the processes of media literacy. Participants (N = 882) were randomly assigned to 16 conditions in a 2 [vulnerability: demonstrated, control] x 2 [distractions: present, absent] x 2(2) [ad type: informational, emotional; two replicates of each type] between-subjects nested design. The vulnerability manipulation increased distrust in the target ads and reduced their persuasiveness, not through the hypothesized mechanism of heightened perceptions of vulnerability, but mediated by increased counterarguing. Relative to informational ads, emotional ads were judged more persuasive, attractive, similar to personal experience, and elicited greater identification. However, they were also rated less trustworthy than informational ads, suggesting emotional advertising largely bypasses logical decision-making processes. Distraction reduced counterarguing only among those who found the ad relatively unpersuasive.

The results of this research highlight the central role of trust in media literacy processes. Although individuals recognize and distrust emotional forms of advertising, they are nonetheless persuaded by such appeals. Given the sophistication of contemporary advertising techniques and the ubiquity of distractions, the present research suggests new approaches to media literacy are needed, specifically tailored to decision-making under these more realistic media-use conditions.

DOI

10.5642/cguetd/32

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