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Title:Crafting and delivering effective energy and water conservation messages: The role of forceful language and source features in psychological reactance
Author(s):Martinez Gonzalez, Andrea
Director of Research:Quick, Brian L
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Quick, Brian L
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Tewksbury, David; Bigsby, Elisabeth; Huhman, Marian
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):psychological reactance
environmental conservation
Abstract:A considerable portion of environmental damage is rooted in unsustainable behavior (Schultz, 2014), which presents opportunities for behavioral and social scientific study. The negative environmental and health outcomes of energy emissions (Asensio & Delmas, 2015) and water scarcity (Mazdiyasni & AghaKouchak, 2015) are specifically problematic. Energy and water consumption in the United States are of particular interest given the nation’s leading role in the global consumption of these resources. Despite how necessary promoting energy and water conservation is in the United States, it is challenging partly due to perceptions and psychological barriers about consumption that may be addressed with theory-guided campaign design (see Petersen et al., 2015). The current dissertation turned to communication theory to help create strategic energy and water conservation messages, thus advancing communication theory and environmental communication practice. Among the guiding theories available to communication scholars and environmental communication practitioners, Brehm’s (1996) psychological reactance theory (PRT) is particularly useful for explaining message failure and for guiding strategic message design. Particularly, PRT (Brehm, 1966) can explain how persuasive communication may fail at gaining compliance (e.g., Dillard & Shen, 2005; LaVoie, Quick, Riles, & Lambert, 2017; Quick & Considine, 2008), a desirable outcome in behavior change promotion. The current dissertation relied on the propositions of PRT to (a) test the impact of forceful language in two environmental contexts, (b) explore the role of unique source features in relation to freedom threat perceptions, and (c) investigate the moderating role of reactance proneness and issue involvement as individual difference variables involved in freedom threat appraisal. A 2 (language: forceful, non-forceful) X 3 (source: Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment [ISEE], student) between-subjects pretest-posttest, delayed-posttest control group experimental design was used to investigate the proposed relationships across the two environmental contexts. Students were randomly exposed to one of twelve experimental conditions, or to one of two control conditions in a controlled computer laboratory experiment, with an emailed follow-up. Results revealed partial support for the main model across topics. Specifically, a positive relationship between forceful language and freedom threat perceptions was supported across contexts. Among the relationships proposed between source features and freedom threat perceptions, only a negative relationship between source domineeringness and freedom threat perceptions was significant in the context of energy conservation. Across contexts, reactance was negatively associated with favorable attitudes towards conservation, which were positively associated with intentions to conserve. A test of delayed effects revealed a small yet significant decay in attitudes towards conservation. No significant delayed changes in intentions to conserve were observed for either context. Amid the interactions proposed among forceful language, source features, and individual difference variables (i.e., reactance proneness, issue involvement), three significant interactions were revealed. First, within the context of water conservation, an unexpected interaction between forceful language and source expertise on freedom threat perceptions was observed. Second, within the context of energy conservation, a source domineeringness by reactance proneness interaction on freedom threat perceptions was revealed. Third, a source domineeringness by issue involvement interaction on freedom threat perceptions was observed within the context of water conservation. Finally, tests of the relationship between vested interest theory components and issue involvement revealed that the salience of energy emissions and water scarcity were consistently associated with issue involvement in energy and water conservation, respectively. Theoretical implications for PRT were discussed, and the practical outcomes of this work were outlined. Finally, the limitations of the current dissertation were highlighted with an eye toward future contributions and continuing research.
Issue Date:2019-07-01
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Andrea Martinez Gonzalez
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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