Health communication in the blogosphere: rethinking source and message strategies for "hot cognition" publics
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Strategic health communication in the 21st Century is dynamic and complex. The digital communication environment has facilitated convicted, polarized opinions, the validity of science is under scrutiny, "expert" recommendations are questioned, and public trust is at an all-time low. Together, these phenomena have created obstacles for strategic health communicators tasked with developing effective promotional messages to influence positive health attitudes and behaviors. This research sought to understand how health and science beliefs, perceptions of trust, and different source and message strategies influence promotional health message interpretation. A 2 (source: health professional vs. mom blogger) X 2 (message strategy: scientific evidence vs. experiential narrative) online experiment for two health issues (vaccines and dairy milk) examined these questions. Findings suggest that preexisting attitudes, trust in science and health beliefs are strong predictors of health attitudes and behaviors. These variables also work together with different source and message strategies to influence message interpretation. Data strongly supports the use of a layperson source and narrative message style as the most effective strategy for positively influencing attitudes and behaviors of "hot cognition" publics. Results also reflect the need for long-term strategies increasing public trust in scientific endeavors so that health promotion in the future can be as effective and influential as possible.