Being an effective custodian of communication theory: an examination of theory construction, methodological streamlining, and special population use between constitutive rhetoric, attribution theory, and the third person effect
The area of media effects research is important to understanding how one interacts with and is affected by the different forms of media in society. Since this age is called the information age, one is almost always in constant contact with some form of media, whether receiving or transmitting information. As the area of media effects research grows, it is important to reconsider accepted theory and methodology in the hopes of improving on previous research to provide a deeper and more meaningful understanding of society through media. The Third Person Effect, as explained by Davison (1983), is a very good example of this idea. This present study examines the metaconcepts, theoretical terms, and methodological concerns surrounding the third person effect, which have been identified through the previous 26 years of study. To do this, the theoretical terms, metaconcepts, and methodology used to test the perceptual and behavioral hypotheses outlined in the third person effect are examined, and alternatives are offered and tested. Attribution theory, coupled with the constitutive rhetorical processes of othering and interpellation, are examined as more useable theoretical underpinnings for the perceptual hypothesis, and attribution theory is examined in conjunction with the sports communication understanding of fandom and the identification of such. Methodologically, the perceptual and behavioral hypotheses are tested first through a pilot test using a focus group to garner qualitative data for analysis and then to help create quantitative scales for a pre- and post-test experiment. With an N of 40 for the pilot test and 237 for the pre- and post-test experiment, eight research questions were assessed. The overall results show that attribution coupled with constitutive rhetoric serves as a more explanative theoretical position for the third person effect, but methodologically the testing method provides more, better, and deeper data to examine perception. The behavioral hypothesis is benefited by the perceptual data, and consistent data is found to suggest that studying behavior through attribution will finally produce generalizable data. The findings in this study contribute to future scholarship in the areas of media effects research in general, third person effect research, sports communication research, metatheoretical research, perceptual research, behavioral research, and rhetorical theory. From the position of a scholar, this research will hopefully help fuel investigation that will show this model working across all different populations and different theories as well.