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Salience is the state or condition of being prominent. The Oxford English Dictionary defines salience as "most noticeable or important." The concept is discussed in communication, semiotics, linguistics, sociology, psychology, and political science. It has been studied with respect to interpersonal communication, persuasion, politics, and its influence on mass media.
In semiotics (the study of signs or symbolism), salience refers to the relative importance or prominence of a part of a sign. The salience of a particular sign when considered in the context of others helps an individual to quickly rank large amounts of information by importance and thus give attention to that which is the most important. This process keeps an individual from being overwhelmed with information overload.
Meaning can be described as the "system of mental representations of an object or phenomenon, its properties and associations with other objects and/or phenomena. In the consciousness of an individual, meaning is reflected in the form of sensory information, images and concepts." It is denotative or connotative, but the sign system for transmitting meanings can be uncertain in its operation or conditions may disrupt the communication and prevent accurate meanings from being decoded.
Further, meaning is socially constructed and dynamic as the culture evolves. That is problematic because an individual's frame of reference and experience may produce some divergence from some of the prevailing social norms. So the salience of data will be determined by both situational and emotional elements in a combination relatively unique to each individual. For example, a person with an interest in botany may allocate greater salience to visual data involving plants, and a person trained as an architect may scan buildings to identify features of interest. A person's world view or Weltanschauung may predispose salience to data matching those views. Because people live for many years, responses become conventional. At a group or community level, the conventional levels of significance or salience are slowly embedded in the sign systems and culture, and they cannot arbitrarily be changed. For example, the first thing seen in a poster may be the title or picture of a face.
Salience is the critical concept, along with agenda and spin, for the Persuasion theory of Professor Richard E. Vatz of Towson University as articulated in his book, /The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion/, (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013). Salience, in his book and articles, is used as a measure of how reality is created for chosen audiences. He claims (1973) (2013) that the struggle for salience (and agenda and meaning and spin) is the sine qua non of the persuasive process.
Communication scholars have found that a number of different factors have a direct effect on the salience of attitude objects.
William Crano posits that one's direct experience with an issue or attitude object increases the salience and consequently the potency of that attitude, and the level of consistency between attitude and behavior.
The concept called vested interest by Crano is called self-interest by Sears (1997). It seems that "self-interest" is the more widely recognized term. Self-interest involves either perceived or actual personal consequences. That is, Crano (1997) argues that vested interest involves perceived personal consequences (p. 490), while Sears (1997, a critique of Crano) counter-argues that Crano's survey experiments define it objectively. Crano argues that vested interest should have a moderating effect on attitudes. Sears argues that, actually, evidence for this is conflicting: The survey literature has rarely found significant effects of self-interest, while the experimental literature finds significant effects. The literature is concerned with salience only marginally; it is actually about strength of attitudes (i.e. how well they correlate with behavior). It is about salience inasmuch as anything "strong" is "salient".
The salience (prominence) of an attitude can also be measured by the relevance of an idea to that person's needs or aspirations. As ideals become more salient they become more accessible, the more accessible the attitude object is the stronger the attitude toward the object. As accessibility increases, so does the likelihood of self-interested voting (Young).
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Political scientists agree that salience is relatively important in examining political policy, because policies are not only determined by what issues are important to people but also by how important they are. This involves examining what issues are ignored and which are made "important." One research agenda that political scientists are concerned with understanding is "when and how salience and changes in salience matter for political action."
There are three related understandings of salience.
A particular study[clarification needed] that researched salience and public opinion examined most of the agenda-setting research since the United States presidential election, 1968 which has been concerned with how the public salience of the issue is related to mass media's ranking of these issues in terms of frequency of coverage and news play. The main hypothesis examined in this study is the ranking of certain issues by the media, which, in time, becomes the public agenda. More importantly, the article searched whether the perceived public salience of the federal budget deficit is significantly related "to the amount of public knowledge about the issue, direction of public opinion regarding one possible solution to the issue, the strength of that opinion and political behavior such as writing letters, signing petitions, voting, etc." The result of this study concluded that "even though the federal deficit issue was one of the more salient to newspaper and voters during the 1988 election, it (the federal budget deficit) was not as emotional or dramatic as some of the other highly salient issues such as drug abuse or environmental pollution. Thus it seemed likely that public opinion regarding a solution to the federal budget deficit might be rather evenly split and would likely be more stable during the month of interviewing than would opinion on some of the other more dramatic issues being emphasized in news media coverage and political advertisements." In other words, issues that directly involve subjects, in this study, would conclude to be more salient than issues that do not involve them directly.
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Although salience is a stimulus response, is it a stimulus quality or an absolute quality? Salience plays an important role in intergroup communication. According to Harwood, Raman and Hewstone, "Group salience is a key variable both in influencing quality of intergroup contact and in moderating the effects of intergroup contact on prejudicial attitudes."
In their study of family communication and intergroup relationships, "Group salience is an individual's awareness of group memberships and respective group differences in an intergroup encounter (e.g., the salience of race in an interracial conversation)." This study carefully examines the dynamics of intergroup relationships with respect to communication in a family context. Their study involved communicative aspects associated with age salience in the grandparent - grandchild relationship, the extent to which various dimension of communication predicts measures of salience, relational or inter-family proximity, and attitudes towards aging. According to Harwood, Raman and Hewstone, "Communication phenomena that were positively correlated with measures of age salience were negatively related to relational closeness. Only one communication measure (grandparents talking about the past) moderated the relationship between quality of contact with grandparent and attitudes toward older people. Specific communicative dimensions emerged that warrant further investigation in this and other intergroup contexts."
Salience also from an applied communicative perspective plays an important role in our Consumer- Marketing world. In Gianluigi Guido's book, The Salience of Marketing Stimuli: an incongruity - salience hypothesis on consumer awareness, "salience triggered by an external physical stimuli, like all marketing stimuli are before being internalized by consumers - to explain and predict the conditions under which a marketing stimulus, is able to achieve its communication outcomes in term of processing and memory." The book clearly defines the history of the definition of salience and the ambiguities of arriving at an accurate definition. It also utilizes various theories to best define salience in our marketing world. Of the many theories, Guido uses aspects of Incongruity theory, Schema theory and an information processing model referred to as the In-salience hypothesis emphasizes the nature of prominence of salience.
Therefore, to define salience as appropriate as possible using the information, it would be apt to define it such that, salience is that intrinsic concept of the perceived or interpreted prominence of an attitude, and its manifestation on our choices.