Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2018

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Laura Rickard

Second Committee Member

Bridie McGreavy

Third Committee Member

Caroline Noblet

Abstract

In the U.S., the aquaculture industry receives differential support from various publics due to the health and environmental concerns of seafood consumers. Since consumer communication plays a significant role in policy support, understanding how messages about aquaculture should be framed is important. This study investigated the influence of gain vs. loss and near vs. far spatial distance framing on support for aquaculture among seafood consumers in the U.S. The study used a 2*2 experimental design to vary gain/loss and near/far framing among 1052 U.S. residents from all 50 states. An online questionnaire, distributed by the survey firm GfK, was employed to collect quantitative data.

Gain frames highlight advantages of adhering to an expected behavioral outcome whereas loss frames highlight disadvantages of nonconforming to a given expectancy. In contrast, a near frame specifies spatial closeness to an event and the far frame is focused on spatially distal events. The framing literature reveals that message framing behaves in contradictory ways depending on the context. For instance, gain frames are more effective in influencing cautious behaviors but loss frames are more effective in inducing risky behaviors. Similarly, near vs. far spatial distance framing shows converging influences depending on research contexts.

This study investigated three main research questions to identify what message frames may engender more support for aquacultures and tested for their interaction effect. Results suggest that age, gender, education, political orientation, region of the U.S., seafood consumption frequency, and message relevancy cause extra variation above the effect of the framing variables. Therefore, these variables were treated as covariates in the ANCOVA.

Findings further indicated that the loss frame was more effective in increasing support for aquaculture than the gain frame. In addition, near and far spatial distance frames had no significant impact on the support for aquaculture at 5% probability levels. However, loss/near and loss/ far messages show a significant increase in support for aquaculture at the 10% probability level. Finally, gain vs. loss and near vs. far spatial distance frames do not have a significant interaction effect. The above findings indicate that emphasizing the losses of non-adoption of aquaculture in the U.S. (i.e., near) and China (i.e., far) for U.S. audiences may influence support for aquaculture policies, as compared to gain-framed messages.

This study also poses implications for the seafood industry as it suggests that presenting a loss frame (as opposed to a gain frame) may lead to more support for aquaculture among U.S. consumers, when controlling for various individual characteristics. Loss frames highlight the disadvantages of not adopting aquaculture in a given location. In so doing, these messages may provoke thoughts about loss of employment opportunities, adverse economic effects of less adoption, and nutritional disadvantages of not consuming seafood, and thus lead to support for the aquaculture industry. Analyzing the mediation and moderation roles of message relevance and emotions, seafood consumption, aquaculture knowledge, perceived aquaculture benefits, source credibility, and political orientation is suggested as future research to this study.

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