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A Survey of Scientific Communication Theory

Charles Pavitt

This detailed survey of present-day scientific communication theory rejects the outmoded «levels» organizational scheme in favor of a system based on the underlying model and fundamental explanatory principle each theory presupposes. In doing so it shows the fundamental similarities among all communication-relevant contexts. Most theories included in the book are causal in nature, derived from one of three underlying models: message production, message reception, or interactive. A few theories take on a functional form, sometimes in dialectic or systemic versions. An introductory chapter describes what is meant by scientific explanation, how that concept is instantiated in scientific communication theory, and delineates the three causal models prevalent in these theories. A useful resource for scholars, this book is suitable for graduate and advanced undergraduate courses in communication theory.
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Chapter 2 Hedonistic-Driven Message Reception Theories


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Hedonistic-driven message reception theories share the following characteristics: A person motivated by reward-cost considerations perceives a message and then cognitively processes that message in terms of that motivation, i.e., the extent to which the message’s content or style of presentation promises that a cognition or action will result in pleasure or pain. If the message is successful, the result of that cognitive process is either reinforcement of or a change in preexisting cognitions or actions. Thus, as with other message reception theories, this theory set follows an OSPR model, except for a couple of members of that set that at least explicitly ignore the O. The accompanying Table lists the manner in which the theories included here instantiate the OSPR model.

I will distinguish between two more specific approaches within this general category. The first, epitomized by the Yale Communication Research Program and its progeny, emphasizes reinforcement principles as interpreted in the drive-theoretical tradition summarized in the previous chapter. The second, exemplified by the Activation Model of Information Exposure, privilege a homeostatic view of the person as attempting to maintain a desired comfort level. I will finish with three other hedonistic-based message ← 33 | 34 → reception theories that fit neither category: the Theory of Reasoned Action, Social Learning Theory, and the Spiral of Silence.

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