Competing Messages
Oklahoma University - January - March 2006

The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which various communication forms cultivate and affect perception and/or beliefs about the military in high school youth and their parents. Via recruiting, the military can use this information to add to, correct, or even influence attitudes of those audiences.

Telephone Survey

To assess the research questions and the predicted organizational model, a one-panel telephone survey was conducted by the students in the Department of Defense Joint Course in Communication. The telephone surveys were conducted the last week in February (N= 119).

The sample was drawn from households in the states of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.  The sample was obtained from the Department of Defense.  The sample was randomly divided into ‘Parents’ (N=71) and ‘Young Adults’ (N=48) categories.  Participants were screened by asking if they were 16 to 18 years old or if they were the parents of 16 – 18 year-olds before they took part in the survey. Participants had to be 16 to 18 years of age or be a parent of a young adult between the ages of 16 to 18. They also had to agree to participate in the study.  Each phone survey was between 12 to 20 minutes in duration. 

All instruments in the telephone surveys featured multiple-item indicators and were assessed for internal consistency using Cronbach’s coefficient alpha. The measures are described below.


Respondents’ sociodemographic characteristics, including gender (Males=64, Females=55), race, age, household income, marital status (Married=52%), number of children, and military service were measured.

Respondents’ gender was determined without asking and was operationalized as male or female. Race was assessed by asking if they were: Caucasian (79%), African-American (8%), Hispanic (6.7%), Native-American/Pacific Islander (2.5%), or other (3.8%). Age was assessed by asking the respondents’ age. Household income was operationalized as: below $25,000 (5%), between $25,000 and $34,999 (7.6%), between $35,000 and $44,999 (4.2%), between $45,000 and $54,999 (6.7%), between $55,000 and $74,999 (13.4%), and $75,000 and $89,999 (7.6%), and above $90,000 (8.4%).  Marital status was assessed by asking if they are married or single (62 married, 57 single), and presence of children was answered yes/no to a question asking if they had children. Military service was determined by asking if the parents had ever served in the military.

We also asked them what their primary source of information about the military was, how many days in the past week they watched national or local television news, how many days in the past week they read the news section of the paper, and how many days during the past week they sought out information about the military on the world wide web.

Independent Measures

Media use and attention served as the independent variables. The study operationalized media use as exposure to and attention paid to specific communication media. This approach is recommended by McLeod and McDonald (1985) and Chafee and Schleuder (1986) who maintain that both exposure and attention paid scales are required in order to compare communications use. 

This investigation employed two ten-point scales to assess people’s exposure to and attention paid to different communication forms. Media items were broken down into four dimensions: news (national television news programs, local television news programs, newspapers, magazines, radio news programs, television news magazines); entertainment (radio talk shows, television talk shows, television shows, movies, video games, the internet, movies depicting military personnel, video gamed depicting military personnel); advertising (televised military advertising, print military advertising, printed materials about joining the military), and conversations (with parents, friend, and in school settings).

Dependent Measures

Overall attitudes about the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army were assessed with a global attitude measure across media forms adapted from Burgoon, Cohen, Miller, and Montgomery (1978). The measures are based on the operationalization of media use.  The measure’s seven-point bipolar adjective scale includes: unacceptable/acceptable, foolish/wise, unfavorable/favorable, negative/positive, bad/good, and wrong/right (Marines:a =.96, M=6.57, s.d.=1.52; Army: a =.96, M=6.33, s.d.=1.53). Next, the individual’s overall attitudes about a young person joining the U.S. Marine Corps or the Army was assessed using the same global attitude measure (Marines: a =.98, M=6.35, s.d.=1.75; Army a =.94, M=6.24, s.d.=1.71).

Overall attitude about U.S. military presence in Iraq was assessed with a global attitude measure adapted from Burgoon, Cohen, Miller, and Montgomery (1978). The measure’s six-point bipolar adjective scale included: unacceptable/acceptable, foolish/wise, unfavorable/favorable, negative/positive, bad/good, and wrong/right (a = .98).

Thermometer scales (1 to 100) were used to measure the likelihood of young adults serving in the military, as well as a parent’s likelihood of encouraging their child to join the military.  The participants were asked, “On a scale of 0 to 100 (0 being not at all, and 100 being extremely likely) how likely are you to encourage your child to join the military?” (M=46.76, s.d.=36.17).  The wording of this item was patterned after an item used in past studies of public confidence conducted by, among others, the Institute for Social Research/Center for Political Studies (Asher, 1988) and Harris, Gallup, and NORC (see Lipset & Schneider, 1987).

Parents and young adults were asked how often they had discussions with parents, friends, or in class/work about the military. This was a 0 (never have these types of discussions) to 7 (discuss this a lot) scale (Horowitz, et. al., 2005).


 DoD Joint Course in Communications - Class 06-B