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A Kernel of Truth? The Impact of Television Storylines Exploiting Myths About Organ Donation on the Public's Willingness to Donate

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A Kernel of Truth? The Impact of Television Storylines Exploiting Myths About Organ Donation on the Public's Willingness to Donate
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  See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229617009 A Kernel of Truth? The Impact of TelevisionStorylines Exploiting Myths About OrganDonation on the Public's Willingness...  Article   in  Journal of Communication · November 2010 DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01523.x CITATIONS 11 READS 183 4 authors , including: Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects: Clinical trial communication   View projectSusan E MorganUniversity of Miami 67   PUBLICATIONS   1,618   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE Andy J. KingTexas Tech University 28   PUBLICATIONS   269   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE Rebecca Katherine IvicUniversity of Akron 9   PUBLICATIONS   53   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE All content following this page was uploaded by Susan E Morgan on 29 March 2015. The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. All in-text references underlined in blue are added to the srcinal documentand are linked to publications on ResearchGate, letting you access and read them immediately.  Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916 ORIGINAL ARTICLE A Kernel of Truth? The Impact of TelevisionStorylines Exploiting Myths About OrganDonation on the Public’s Willingnessto Donate Susan E. Morgan, Andy J. King, Jessica Rae Smith, & Rebecca Ivic Department of Communication, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA In this study, 580 participants viewed one of the 30 full-length entertainment televisionepisodes.Fifteenoftheseepisodescenteredonanorgandonationstoryline(ODS)wherefactsabout the process were portrayed inaccurately; the remaining 15 were matched by program,but did not feature organ donation, and served as controls. Results indicated nondonorswere significantly impacted by negative organ-donation-related content. ODSs produced more negative attitudes, less accurate knowledge, and perceptions of social and descriptivenorms less supportive of organ donation among nondonors. However, participants who had already declared a willingness to donate organs after death were not significantly impacted by entertainment television’s depiction of myths about donation. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01523.x  Media effects research has been well publicized on television news programs, butthe studies brought to the attention of the public tend to focus on only a few topics.Featuredresearchexaminestheeffectoftelevisionviewingonbehaviorsandattitudesabout sex, violence, and drug use, particularly on adolescents (e.g., Harrison, 2000;Kim et al., 2006; Krcmar & Greene, 1999, 2000; Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan,2009; Villani, 2001). Among communication scholars, the effect of media on a muchwider variety of social and health concerns is well known, having been establishedthrough decades of scholarship on alcohol and tobacco use (Baillie, 1996; NationalCancer Institute, 2008; Yanovitzky & Stryker, 2001), political beliefs and behaviors(Druckman, 2005; Moy, McCluskey, McCoy, & Spratt, 2004), and entertainmenteducation(Singhal& Rogers,2002;Singhal,Rogers,&Brown, 1993;Slater&Rouner,2002), to name just a few.Thusfar,mediaeffects researchhasfocusedmostlyontopicswhere thepublichasmultiple sources of information and influence in addition to the media. Consider, Corresponding author: Susan E. Morgan; e-mail: semorgan@purdue.edu 778  Journal of Communication  60  (2010) 778–796 © 2010 International Communication Association  S. E. Morgan  et al  .  A Kernel of Truth for example, drug and alcohol use or behaviors regarding sex or violence. Few wouldargue that media consumption is the only influence on an individual’s behavior.Carefulexperimentsattempttofactoroutriskandprotectivefactorssuchassocioeco-nomic status, religious practices, education, and behaviors of peers and family beforeattemptingtoassesstheimpactofthemedia(Zuckerman,1979,1994).Itiswidelyrec-ognizedthatthewaysinwhichoneissocializedisapowerfuldeterminantofbehaviors.However,whathappenswhenatopicthatregularlyappearsinthemediaissubjectto few, if any, other direct influences on attitudes and behaviors? Studies on suchtopics are relatively few in number, but reveal powerful influences of media (Jones &McMahon, 2004; Maloney & Walker, 2000; Morgan, 2008; Morgan, Harrison, Afifi,Long, Stephenson, & Reichert, 2005; Morgan, Movius, & Cody, 2009; Wagner &Kronberger, 2001; Washer & Joffe, 2006). Mediating and moderating variables exist,but they tend to be specific to the topic at hand, particularly one’s direct experiencewith the studied phenomenon. For example, the influence of media coverage of biotechnology is moderated by direct scientific knowledge of biotechnology, as wellas level of education (Wagner & Kronberger, 2001). The effect of broader socializinginfluencessuchasthefamilyorone’sreligionisnotbroughtintothemix,presumably because few mores direct one’s attitudes and behaviors to something as specific asbiotechnology.Organ donation is an example of a regularly appearing media topic (see Feeley &Vincent, 2007; Harrison, Morgan, & Chewning, 2008; Morgan, Harrison, Chewning,Di Corcia, & Davis, 2007) about which people have few other sources of informationor influence. Although news media coverage is usually accurate (Harrison et al.,2008),focus seems to be directed toward human interest stories rather than scientificfacts or advances (Harrison et al., 2008; Maloney & Walker, 2000). Conversely,entertainment media present compelling and coherent narratives about organdonation that revolve around medical, legal, and logistical impossibilities of theUnited States’ current system of organ donation, procurement, and allocation(Morgan et al., 2007). Perhaps not surprisingly in light of results reported by Feeley and Servoss (2005)indicating the media is the most influential source of informationabout organ donation, the myths depicted in entertainment television not only correspond to prevalent public beliefs about donation (Morgan, 2008; Morganet al., 2005; Morgan, Harrison et al., 2008), but believing in these myths is directly predictive of individuals’ donor statuses (Morgan, Stephenson et al., 2008).Entertainment television regularly depicts organ donation negatively and/orfalsely (Maloney & Walker, 2000, Morgan et al., 2007). Maloney and Walker (2000)delineated the frames used to present organ donation, which include language thatevokesimagesofFrankenstein,andlabelstransplantsurgeonsandorganprocurementstaff ‘‘vultures.’’ Morgan et al.’s (2005, 2007) studies further support the inclusionof such myths in entertainment television narratives. Other dominant and mythicaltelevision depictions of organ donation include the existence of a black market fororgans in the United States, corrupt transplant surgeons murdering patients for theirorgans, and undeserving transplant recipients (Morgan et al., 2007). Journal of Communication  60  (2010) 778–796 © 2010 International Communication Association  779  A Kernel of Truth  S. E. Morgan  et al  . One study provides preliminary evidence that viewing organ donation televisionepisodes directly affects reported beliefs about donation (Morgan et al., 2009).Participants who reported viewing episodes of entertainment television programsrevolving around a particular myth about donation (e.g., domestic black marketsfor organs, doctors killing patients for their organs) were most likely to believe inthe myth featured in that particular program, compared to viewers of programs thathighlighted other myths about donation. However, the study suffers from severallimitations related to subject recruitment (subjects voluntarily clicked on a link fromtelevision network or fan Web sites), the varying lag times between viewing someepisodes and viewers’ responses to the study survey, and the fact that viewers of eachparticular organ-donation-related episode could not be matched with a control fromthe same television series. Therefore, researchers only compared between shows andnot within. Additionally, the posting of surveys on fan sites meant authors couldnot control whether or not fans and Web site visitors actually viewed the episode inquestion. Thus, although Morgan et al. (2009) had the advantage of external validity thatfieldstudiescanbestoffer,theliteraturewouldbenefitfromamoreexperimentalapproach. The purpose of the study described here, then, is to establish effects of thedepiction of myths about organ donation in entertainment media on donors andnondonors in a controlled situation and environment. Theoretical foundations Social representations theory (SRT) argues that under certain circumstances infor-mation broadcast by the mass media leads to individual cognitions about a topicand can then make its way into interpersonal discussions (Morgan, 2008; Moscovici,1984, 1988; Southwell & Torres, 2006; Southwell & Yzer, 2007). Social representa- tions are not synonymous with ‘‘frames’’ because they encompass more than what issimply presented in the media. Social representations emerge as a (sometimes loose)collectiveconsensus as aresult of both media coverageand interpersonal discussions.However, in order for a social representation to emerge, the topic must be perceivedasnovel and/or controversialenough to spurinterpersonal conversations with othersin one’s community (Castro, 2006). In other words, the topic has to have an elementof the sensational.As Castro (2006) reminds us, ‘‘people do not abhor a contradiction, they only  . . .  abhor [a] vacuum’’ (p. 260). In the absence of understanding something strangeor new, people attempt to impose meaning by drawing parallels between what isnew and what is old (Washer & Joffe, 2006). The process of making meaning fromsomething novel or disturbing is both intrapersonal and interpersonal in nature(Castro, 2006); however, this process virtually always begins with how the mediaportrays a phenomenon (Moscovici, 1984, 1988). These depictions impact different communities in different ways and to varying degrees (Moscovici, 1998; Moscovici& Hewstone, 1983). For example, media coverage of unethical medical research thatdisproportionately affected minority communities would be expected to create a 780  Journal of Communication  60  (2010) 778–796 © 2010 International Communication Association  S. E. Morgan  et al  .  A Kernel of Truth spike in medical mistrust in the general population, although this mistrust would beespecially pronounced in the African American community because of the ongoingreverberations of the Tuskeegee experiments (Centers for Disease Control, 2008).Additionally,whomonetalkstoaboutwhatisseeninthemediaisdeterminedinpartby the perceived relevance of the coverage to the various communities (e.g., work,church, and social) to which an individual belongs. It is more likely that individualswould talk with their work community about how publicized state budget cuts mightlead to layoffs rather than their religious community, with who they may instead talk about spiritual beliefs appearing on television shows. Thus, social representationstheory provides scholars with a framework for understanding why some types of mediaaffectcertainpeople morethanothersdependent ontheperceived importanceof the information to people as individuals, as well as the perceived relevance of suchinformation, to the many communities in one’s life.Interestingly, the informal communication that happens within these communi-tiesintroducesdistortionstohelpmakenewexplanationscompatiblewithpreexistingcommonsense understandings (Tsoukalas, 2006).Therefore, if the public believes hitmen can be paid to murder people, then the public would question whether physi-cians would be motivated to let some people die so that their organs can be procuredfor lucrative transplants. Similarly, dangerous and illegal drugs are smuggled into thecountry and sold on the black market. Extending the existence of this black market toone that also traffics human organs becomes an unsurprising progression in cogni-tions.Thisbeliefisonlyexacerbatedbyablackmarketfororgansinseveraldevelopingnations with few regulations and little oversight of the donation and transplantationprocess.Intheabsenceofcontradictoryinformation,individuals anchortheirunder-standings of something unfamiliar to what is already known. Being able to see withone’s own eyes—albeit on a crime show like  Crossing Jordan —the entire process by whichablack marketfor organsmightoperate onlyfuels the false anchoring of organdonation and procurement to other types of tangible goods and services.Naturally, people do not arrive at the issue of organ donation as blank slates.As social representations theory suggests, our attitudes toward organ donation area product of a combination of the media, individual cognition, interpersonal com-munication, and the interpretation of an issue by the members of one’s community,including family and friends (Morgan, 2008). However, the process of making senseof an issue like organ donation, which is still a relatively recent medical innovation, isby no means a straightforward process. Few people have first-hand experience withthe issue, with the exception of nonprofit organizations promoting organ donation,individuals involved with the transplant process. Consistent with social represen-tations theory, the rest of the public must rely on news reports from media andother representations in the media in order to begin the process of ‘‘sense-making’’(Morgan, 2008). Thus, although people rely on the opinions of friends and family members as part of their own decision-making process regarding donation, thoseopinions were also influenced by the media because virtually no other information isdirectly available to members of the general public. Journal of Communication  60  (2010) 778–796 © 2010 International Communication Association  781
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