Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Applied Communication Theory and Methodology


College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Bracken, Cheryl

Subject Headings

Communication, Mass Communications, Mass Media


Addiction to opioids, including abusing prescription pain killers and using heroin, is on a dramatic rise in the United States. Communities across the country are in the process of adapting new ways of addressing the issue, which have been met with significant opposition from the general public. This study examined the impact an individual’s trait empathy has on whether persuasive public service announcements (PSAs) dealing with opioid addiction will be processed centrally or peripherally. Empathy has evolved, growing from an emotional experience, to a cognitive ability, to a function of both emotional and cognitive elements that can work both independently and interdependently of each other (Nathanson, 2003). The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) suggests that motivation and ability are the determinants for whether a message will be processed centrally or peripherally. Given the dual nature of empathy, it is plausible that the emotional and cognitive elements of trait empathy could drive motivation and reinforce ability, making those individuals more likely to centrally process a message seeking to enhance attitudes toward opioid addicts. A 2 (high v low trait empathy) x 2 (high v low empathetic message) x 2 (strong v weak) between participant experiment was conducted. Outcome measures included reported empathy, stigmatized and stereotypical attitudes towards opioid addicts, and support for prosocial policies.