Capstone Project, Class 04C
Air Force Mass Media: Which Sources are Chosen By Who and Why

Literature Review

Annually, the Air Force uses a great deal of man-hours and a large portion of their budget to report to Air Force service members through different communication venues, including, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, television, radio the Internet and others. The main goal of using these mediums is to provide Air Force members local command information, updated Air Force policy from headquarters and other related services. The expected outcome of using these sources is that the Air Force will have a more informed force, ultimately making members more productive and more involved in their communities throughout a changing environment.

In order to communicate effectively with its members, the Air Force needs to ensure that each medium is an effective tool for information. Also, for budgetary reasons, the Air Force needs to know which communication forms are the most useful at reaching service members. There are various theories that will help us understand this information such as the Heuristic-Systematic Model, Elaboration Likelihood Model, Uses and Gratification theory and source credibility. The Heuristic-Systematic Model and the Elaboration Likelihood Model are two approaches taken in order to evaluate the effectiveness of communication mediums. In both models information processing is used to determine medium choices. In addition to information processing Uses and Gratifications theory is applicable to determine if those who are motivated towards professional activities and community activities are more inclined to utilize various forms of Air Force mass media. Lastly, source credibility plays a major role in determining which mediums are used. In researching the different communication tools available to Air Force members, this project specifically looked at which mediums Air Force members gravitate towards and why. In order to understand why Air Force members may be interested in particular forms of mass media, the researchers for this project utilized the Uses and Gratification theory, two dual-processing models: Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and Heuristic-Systematic Model (HSM) and finally looked at how source credibility effects the overall outcome.

Uses and Gratifications theory
Motivation dictates use in the Uses and Gratification theory. The pleasure or gratification one gets from the consumption of a mass medium contributes to the type of medium they choose. Uses and Gratifications is a mass communications theory that explores the audience member’s role in media use. It focuses on the consumer’s selection of media rather then focusing on the message delivered (Littlejohn, 1996). Common assumptions in this field are the views that audience members are active information processors rather then passive receivers of message (McLeod & Becker, 1981). Media use is goal directed and media sources compete with other sources to satisfy needs (Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren, 1985). Codified by Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch in 1974, uses and gratifications also presupposes that individual differences among audience members motivate each person to seek out different messages for different reasons (Bryant & Thompson, 2002). McLeod and Becker (1981) suggest other variables to gratifications obtained are dependent upon a certain type of media for particular types of content and the amount of attention given a particular type of content. While it does not claim a direct relationship between messages and effects, it alleges that audience members employ messages and such uses act as intermediate variables in the communication process (Bryant & Thompson, 2002).

Much of the research conducted in this field was to understand what gratifications were sought and which were actually obtained from the media. The discrete analysis of these two concepts illustrates that consumers are not always able to get what they want from the media (Miller, 2002). Moreover, the linking of the two ideas does not imply that there is a causal relationship. There are many types of gratifications that can be sought and derived from the same source by the same person. While a person may watch the news for self-education and content, and ‘Survivor’ for relaxation and entertainment, the varied gratifications all stem from the same form of medium. This correlates to Blumler and Katz’s (1974) axiom that we cannot accurately predict specific patterns of gratification based on media content because the individual may derive more than one from the same content (Palmgreen et al.,1985). Simply stated, there are as many reasons for using media as there are media users. Katz et al. (1974) also contend that the characteristics of the media affect the degree to which needs may be met at different times, meaning variations to gratifications obtained exist even within the same context (Palmgreen et al.,1985). Research posits that a causal variable to perceived gratifications may be the influence of attitude. According to a study about E-commerce by Xueming Luo (2002), users who believe the Web is entertaining, informative and like the Internet overall, have positive attitudes towards it. Conversely, those who perceive the Web to be frustrating are more likely to have negative attitudes toward the Internet. The antecedent to gratifications is need and since this theory’s inception, researchers have sought to understand the social and psychological influence on what drives people to seek out media in the first place. The expectancy-value model, an extension of uses and gratifications, infers people seek out mediums based on their value of a specific outcome and the likelihood of that outcome occurring (Miller, 2002). Moving from attitude to belief, it contends that individual attitudes toward different types of media are determined by individual beliefs and evaluations of it (Palmgreen, et al., 1985). Individuals may also broaden into various media types to increase their likelihood of obtaining gratifications obtained. An example of this would be if an individual found the evening news to be education, and that individual believed education to be good, then the individual would be more likely to gratify his need by watching the evening news. Palmgreen et al. (1985) also added that the various media types themselves, the availability of the media and individual psychological traits such as introversion or extroversion, affect beliefs about what can be obtained from the media.

The above findings support our predictions that Air Force members who are active in professional or base community activities will be more likely to use Air Force communication venues and that those who are inactive in such organizations will be less likely to seek Air Force information. Correlating positive attitude with favorable involvement, airmen who have high levels of involvement will have a stronger motivation to seek out gratifications from the media.

H1: USAF members who are more motivated toward professional activities are more inclined to utilize base newspapers, base Websites, Air Force Websites, commanders’ access channels, etc.
H2: USAF members who are more motivated toward base community activities are more inclined to utilize base newspapers, base Websites, Air Force Websites, commanders’ access channels, etc.

Dual-Processing Models
Heuristic-Systematic Model. According to the dual-processing models, people who are motivated will actively process information while those who are not motivated will passively process information. The television industry has learned to capitalize on taking advantage of its full potential, specifically to communicate visual messages in a more intimate way. It looks at appealing to images themselves rather than the content or information. Due to television becoming a more low involvement or passive medium, it is important that we look at theories developed to study passive versus active social information processing (Pfau & Parrott, 1993). Several theories have been developed over the years including the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and the Heuristic-Systematic Model (HSM). First, let us look at how the HSM applies to Air Force members’ interests and abilities with the various mass mediums.

The main point of the HSM is that people can engage in systematic or heuristic processing. According to Todorov, Chaiken & Henderson (2002), “people can scrutinize cues peripheral to the message content, or they can process the message content heuristically” (p. 195). The HSM states that people engage in systematic processing of persuasive information only when they are fairly motivated. In a systematic mode, people look at all the information carefully, elaborate on it and form a decision based on these details. On the other hand, people who are not fully motivated or lack the ability or background to understand the information will likely engage in passive or heuristic processing (Neuwirth, Frederick, Mayo, 2000).
In a heuristic mode, people consider only a few information signals and form a judgment based on these limited cues (Todorov et al., 2002; Areni, Ferrell, Wilcox, 2000). More directly heuristic processing and passive consumption go hand in hand. Chaiken (1987) stated that receivers are often unmotivated and therefore less involved in message processing. In this case, the receiver is unlikely to actively process messages and if the messages put forth a persuasive influence, they do so mindlessly. On the other hand, systematic processing occurs when an individual has ample levels of both cognitive capacity and motivation. The need for cognitive capacity reflects the fact that people have a limited ability to understand information and that systematic processing requires more cognitive capacity than heuristic processing. In other words, someone must be able to commit more mental effort to a judgment task in order to process information systematically (Chaiken, 1987; Griffin, Neuwirth, Giese, Dunwoody, 2002).

The purpose of this research is to see which communication forms Air Force members gravitate towards and why. The HSM has been applied to mass media consumption over the past two decades. So when does one passively process information versus actively? Researchers who have used the HSM look at several areas including cognitive ability, which relates to education level or socioeconomic status (SES); motivation; and the mass medium used (television, radio or print). According to Eveland & Scheufele (2000) those who have a higher level of education are likely to have a better reading ability and therefore are more capable of elaborating on information and processing actively. Eveland & Scheufele (2000) went on to say that people in a lower SES typically read the sports page while those of a high SES are more likely to read the hard news or opinion sections of the newspaper. In other words, those of low SES have less exposure to more complicated information than high SES groups and therefore are less willing to actively process information. Factors that influence cognitive capacity include: limited time to process, lack of knowledge of a particular topic and the presence of other simultaneous processing tasks (Zuckerman & Chaiken, 1998). With regard to time as a factor, Kahlor Dunwoody, Griffin, Neuwirth, & Giese (2003) found that if people process messages quickly, their understanding of its contents will likely be more superficial (heuristic) than if they take their time. In one research study, Kahlor et al. (2003) found that individuals who received an article and read it right after it arrived were more likely to process the information heuristically than people who read the article at a later time.

Of course one’s motivation can make up for their lack of education or SES. In 1998 Zuckerman & Chaiken claimed that there are several factors that affect someone’s cognitive ability including time and their motivation with the particular topic. For example, fear may increase someone’s systematic processing because they will have an increased interest in their well-being and thus be more inclined to process systematically. Zuckerman & Chaiken (1998) stated, “the more motivation and cognitive capacity an individual has, the more systematic processing is likely to occur” (p. 638). Of course each individual has his or her own perception of what is important. According to Zuckerman & Chaiken (1998) a warning label may recommend that someone wear rubber gloves while using a certain product because it may cause skin irritation. The user will then decide how important that message is to them. They will interpret the skin irritation to be either a mild or intense problem depending on what they already know (Zuckerman & Chaiken, 1998).

According research related to the HSM, another factor, which affects whether individuals process information passively or actively is the medium used. Krugman (1965, 1971) reasoned that low-involvement or heuristic processing was most likely with television regardless of the content. He believed that print media encouraged more involvement than television. Wright (1974) took it a step further, claiming that actively processing information has to do with whether the content has value to the person involved. Wright (1974) believed that radio constrained a person’s ability to actively process more than print. Later research by Krugman (2000) compared active and passive processing with right-brain and left-brain functions. Krugman (2000) said that speaking and reading were left-brain functions while images are a right-brain function. He went on to say that the print medium is mostly a left-brain function while television is largely a right-brain function. He also added that high involvement is connected with the left brain while low involvement more of right brain activity. Pfau & Parrott (1993) points out, “the specific strategies and examples will be drawn from commercial campaigns that rely primarily on the television medium to carry their messages to receivers, precisely because they illustrate the passive alternative most clearly” (p. 105). Eveland & Scheufele (2000) claim that newspapers have a middle-class bias while television has more lower class bias. Television news may be more manageable to those with weaker cognitive skills and would require less knowledge than would be needed for newspaper news. Also, hard news content in television is so limited that those with higher cognitive skills and more background information would learn very little beyond what they already know (Eveland & Scheufele, 2000).

Elaboration Likelihood Model. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) is a process-oriented theory rather than a variable-oriented one. It does not focus on the source, message, or receiver variables only; it also focuses on the processes through which these variables and message characteristics influence and change attitudes (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002). The ELM attempts to explain not only different ways of processing messages, but also why different processing methods are used, and the results of those methods on attitude change. In 1981, authors Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, two social psychologists, proposed two paths to information processing: central and peripheral. When a message receiver uses the central route, they will scrutinize the content of the message in order to determine the strength or persuasiveness of the argument (Miller 2002). This scrutiny, or mental elaboration, is more than simply paying close attention or understanding the arguments; it involves generating one’s own thoughts about the arguments (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002). Whereas if the receiver takes the peripheral route, they will not elaborate cognitively on the strength of the arguments (Miller 2002). Instead, they will rely on indicators, usually unrelated to the content of the argument, in order to determine persuasiveness (Miller 2002). For example, a person may be persuaded by an argument because they perceive the source to be an expert, or attractive, or famous, and so on. Of the two routes, ELM proposes that the central route is the one that will result in attitude changes that are enduring, resistant to counter-persuasion, and predictive of future behavior (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Miller 2002; Petty & Cacioppo 1986; Petty, Cacioppo, & Kasmer 1988). The inverse is true for peripheral route of message processing. Attitude change developed through this route will be comparatively temporary, vulnerable to change, and not predictive of future behavior (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Miller 2002; Petty & Cacioppo 1986; Petty, Cacioppo, & Kasmer 1988).

The ELM suggests that a number of factors will determine which message processing route a person will take (Miller 2002). However, motivation and ability are the two most prominent factors mentioned across the literature (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Eagly & Chaiken, 1993, chap. 7; Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997; Miller 2002; Priester, Wegener, Petty, & Fabrigar, (1999). A person’s motivation to elaborate on the content of a message is affected by the person’s involvement in and knowledge of the topic (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997; Miller 2002; Petty, Cacioppo, & Schumann, 1983). For example, a person 64 years old will likely be motivated to elaborate on a message (central processing) about social security benefits, as opposed to a 24 year old for whom social security is not yet a relevant topic (peripheral processing). However, if the 64 year old has a spouse running a vacuum cleaner in the next room, then this person’s ability to process centrally may be impaired or distracted and they may have to rely on peripheral cues. Other factors affecting ability to elaborate include education level, message complexity, intelligence, knowledge of the topic (Miller 2002), and so forth.

Although the ELM has been described as “the most promising recent theoretical development in persuasion research” (O’Keefe, 1990, p. 109), it has also brought criticism from communication scholars and psychologists alike. These criticisms were based largely on misinterpretations of the ELM postulates (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Petty, Wegener, Fabrigar, Priester & Cacioppo, 1993). For example, Stiff (1986) challenged the ELM’s implication that message receivers take either the central route or the peripheral route but not both. However, the ELM’s postulates do not rule out the possibility of multi-channel processing (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Petty, Cacioppo, Kasmer, & Haugtvedt, 1987; Petty et al. 1993). In fact, the central or peripheral routes do not refer to whether those aspects are processed, but rather the affect of those aspects on the resulting attitude (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; Petty et al., 1997). Stiff (1986) and other critics have been answered effectively by the authors, and Petty and colleagues have not made any changes to the model consistent with those criticisms (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002; see also Petty et al. 1987; Petty et al. 1993).

The HSM and ELM support our hypothesis that field grade officers and senior noncommissioned officers (higher ranking Air Force members) will be more inclined to actively process information and lean towards print because of their higher cognitive abilities which include their level of education and socioeconomic status which tend to be a lot higher than company grade officers and junior enlisted airmen. On the flip side it also supports our other hypothesis that the company grade officers and junior enlisted airmen (lower ranking Air Force members) will be more inclined to passively process information and lean towards radio and in particular television. With regards to education, one research question was also developed.
H3: USAF Field Grade Officers (O-4 and above) and Senior Noncommissioned Officers (E-7 and above) are more inclined to actively process information and lean towards print communication venues.
H4: USAF Company Grade Officers (O-1 thru O-3) and Junior Enlisted Airmen (E-1 thru E-6) are more inclined to passively process information and lean toward electronic venues.
RQ1: Is there a correlation between the education level and preference for communication venues?

Source Credibility
Immediate contact versus no contact and visual versus non-visual communication forms play a major role in what venue Air Force members place higher credibility in. We believe that the more immediate contact and the more visual the communication form - the higher the credibility. Credibility is described by McCroskey and Wheeless (1976), as an attitude toward a source of communication by a receiver at any given time which can be multidimensional, in that the source can be perceived as positive on some dimensions but not on others. In 1976, McCroskey and Wheeless stated, “Credibility is a perception rather than a reality … therefore is a very important variable in human communication” (p.105,106). While most researchers agreed on source credibility being multi dimensional, there has been a lot of disagreement on how many dimensions existed (Stiff & Mongeau, 2003). Consistently, the two dimensions that are the most prevalent are competence (expertise) and trustworthiness. While the credibility can cover a wide array of topics, it has traditionally been the communicator’s credibility that researchers have dedicated much of their time to, while little attention has been given to media credibility (Westley & Severin, 1964).

The first dimension examined is competence, which is regarded as the extent to which a source or person is perceived as knowledgeable. In 2003, Stiff and Mongeau, stated that “assessments of source credibility must focus on the attributions made by receivers of persuasive messages (p.107). This analogy can be taken one step further and used to explain how these assessments affect news media. Ibelema and Powell (2001) found that the more pleasant a person found a media source to be, the more it enhanced the perception of competence. But, this enhanced perception of competency can be hampered by frequent errors in fact and grammar, which can cause this perception to shift to from competent to incompetent. The American Society of Newspaper Editors released findings of the first major national survey designed to find the underlying causes of the media’s disconnect with the public (Marks, 1998). After the three-year research was concluded, it revealed that print media had a problem with too many factual errors and spelling and grammar mistakes. However, similarity with a media source and word of mouth from a trusted source about the competence of a media outlet, also determined a media recipient’s opinion about the media’s competency.

The second dimension, trustworthiness, is viewed as character, which is judged in terms of essential goodness and decency. According to McCroskey and Wheeless (1976), since credibility is multidimensional, a source “can be perceived positively on some dimensions and not on others” (p. 105). For example, if a particular media venue is being judged for credibility, it may be perceived as trustworthy but not extremely competent depending on a person’s perception. Within media, important differences exist between sources the public considers more objective and those they distrust (Hennessy, 1970). A message may be widely accepted when a source is considered trustworthy, but the same message may be rejected when it is printed in a media medium that is viewed as untrustworthy (Hennessy, 1970).

In 1998, Hughes reported that a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 21 percent of the respondents rated the news media as either very or mostly honest and a Gallup poll revealed only 29 percent of Americans express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers. Hennessy (1970) also stated that “people generally give greater credence to the electronic media than to the printed word … greater authority somehow attaches to facts or opinions expressed by TV and radio” (p. 313). In 2001, this dimension was put to test through a study by Ibelema and Powell. These researchers discovered that newspapers are viewed as more credible on particular dimensions of credibility, that the more complex the subject, the more credible newspapers are judged, but that ultimately, TV sources still rated higher in trustworthiness over printed media. It was concluded that the combined ratings for local, cable and network TV news were higher than national and local newspaper ratings combined, with cable TV news as the highest for trustworthiness and local newspapers as the lowest, and radio news as the lowest in credibility for electronic media.

The last item examined was the specific scales used to measure each of the three dimensions. The first one examined was the semantic differential scale, consisting of seven points a person can choose from. According to Sherif & Sherif (1969), the semantic scale is easy to score but had the disadvantage of possible misinterpretation in certain assumptions.
From the information sited above, the researchers for this project have determined that source credibility will play a major role in determining which mass medium Air Force members will most likely prefer. The research done above supports our fifth
hypothesis, that Air Force members will gravitate toward a more visual medium such as television and look for a more personal and immediate contact for their communication.
H5: Air Force members assign greater credibility to communication venues that feature:
a) more immediate contact
b) more visual