Harnessing anger to promote health and environmental activism: Exploring the effectiveness of persuasive counterindustry/anger appeals
Skurka, Christofer Joseph
Anger is an energizing emotion, motivating individuals to approach the situation to retaliate against an appraised wrongdoing. The overarching goal of this dissertation was to investigate the conditions under which persuasive appeals to anger (termed “counterindustry/anger appeals”) can influence activism-related outcomes in the context of pressing social issues (childhood obesity and climate change). Namely, this dissertation investigated matters related to (a) the moderating role of “retributive efficacy” (an anger-specific version of response efficacy that refers to beliefs that a course of action will effectively punish a wrongdoer), (b) the moderating role of prior attitudes toward the advocated issue, (c) the cognitive appraisals associated with anger, and (d) the emotional flow of anger. Studies 1 and 2 validated a proposed measure of retributive efficacy. Studies 3-5 used qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative methods (survey experiments) to develop a set of counterindustry/anger appeals designed to induce different levels of anger toward corporations (the soda industry and fossil fuel industry) and retributive efficacy perceptions. Study 6 experimentally examined the messages’ effects on support for public policies, activism intention, and intentions to perform personal behaviors around the issue. Contrary to expectations, communicating retributive efficacy might not necessarily enhance the effectiveness of a counterindustry/anger appeal. This is because angry individuals are disinclined to take efficacy beliefs into consideration or because retributive efficacy appeals trigger defensive processing. If anything, retributive efficacy messaging may polarize audiences who hold the most extreme initial attitudes. By contrast, an appeal that included general cues about the proposed solutions’ effectiveness (relative to a control message) promoted policy support regardless of initial attitudes. The appraisal findings suggest that to strategically generate anger, the “offense” component of a counterindustry/anger appeal should include multiple subcomponents that target appraisals of the harm that was done, the culprit’s responsibility, and the culprit’s intentionality. Regarding emotional flow, counterindustry/anger appeals may need to generate different emotional flow experiences depending on the outcome advocated. Together, these findings paint a complex portrait of the conditions under which counterindustry/anger appeals can persuade and point to several promising avenues for future research on emotional appeals.
retributive efficacy; Activism; Health Communication; Persuasion; Communication; Anger; environmental communication
Niederdeppe, Jeffrey D. H.
Byrne, Sahara E.; Schuldt, Jonathon Paul
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis