Communication ETDs


Una E. Medina

Publication Date



One out of three Americans undergoes drunk-driving crashes; 23% result in death. To deter DWIs (Driving While under Influence), MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) created VIPs (Victim Impact Panels) where victims impact offenders with gory stories, photos, and threats of punishments and loss of freedom, hoping this message will deter DWIs. It is remarkable that although the VIP message is considered a primary DWI intervention, yet no studies have investigated VIP message effects. VIP message effects, their persistence and decay, are chronicled here over the course of 12 years. This study extends an empirical investigation of VIPs, conducted by Woodall, Delaney, Rogers, and Wheeler (2007) (n = 833) during 1994-1996. At 2 years, these researchers found MADD VIP participants' recidivism rates were 30% higher than their DWI School comparison group, trending toward significance at p = .0583. This study supports those results as significant at 12 years. As an extension, it investigates whether reactance theory explains VIP message effects failure. Reactance theory research, a subset of message effects research, explains how emotional, confrontational, and threatening messages induce psychological reactance in the mind of the message receiver, who then seeks to preserve his or her sense of freedom by behaving contrarily (Brehm, 1966). Hierarchically intensifying effects of these theoretical reactance antecedents are studied here in an unusual manner, as they occur in vivo, in real life. The same intervention was observed to have different effects depending on prior conditions and demographics. The emotional high-threat, high-confrontation MADD VIP message coincided with significantly shorter time to recidivism (p = .009, d = 1.64) and significantly higher number of subsequent arrests (p < .0001, d = 1.64) among recent prior offenders, and those with no priors under age 30 (p = .01, d = 0.35). Younger offenders may be associated with more iconoclastic behavior than older offenders (Beirness & Simpson, 1997; Greenberg, 2005; NHTSA, 2008), partially explaining the under-30 age effect. This study furthers persuasive message design as a science and suggests a message-based approach to intervention analysis. There was no effect when MADD VIP was analyzed simply as an intervention. However, there were highly significant effect sizes when the same MADD VIP intervention was analyzed as a message. This study concludes by offering MADD VIP best practice recommendations.




Victim Impact panels, MADD, message effects, randomized trial, effect size, drunk driving, DWI, efficacy trial, method problems, methodological problems, communication theory, theory building, rhetorical analysis, triangulation, drunk driving, interventions, covariates, ANOVA, ANCOVA, survival analysis, message context, message content, message function, message intensity, message frequency, message metrics, message pathos, pathos, message decay, decay rate, message decay rate, intent to persuade, persuasion, confrontation, shame, shaming, public shaming, public censure, forewarning, perceived threat, reactance theory, assumptions, sampling error, recruitment error, non-adherence to condition, random assignment error, factorial design, operationalization, theory construct operationalization, methods informed by literature, methodological symbiosis, questionnaire reliability and validity, secondary data sources, public arrest record, public data, covariate operationalization, reactance constructs, content analysis, theme analysis, prior arrest, censored cases, QSR N6, SPSS, Excel, limitations, under-identification, attrition, population attrition, bimodal distribution, dichotomous variables, data splitting, discretizing data, time to recidivism, subsequent arrests, emotional change, emotion score, outliers, reactance antecedent, message dose, message dosage, treatment fidelity, assess treatment fidelity, predictor variables, controlling variables, demographic covariate, demographic predictor, confirmation bias, data bias, interaction effect, treatment effect, message design, fear appeal, message strength, anger, survival analysis, time dependence, mixed methods, study design, message standardization, internal validity, hard data, hard end-point data, marginal sample size, observed variables, intervening factors, intervening variables, sample size, in vivo, hierarchy of effects, emotional threat, older offenders, young offenders, intervention analysis, message-based approach, best practices, DWI intervention, DWI treatment, prior conditions, iconoclast, Drunks Against MADD Mothers, resistance, message design science

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Woodall, W. Gill

First Committee Member (Chair)

Schuetz, Janice

Second Committee Member

Rivera, Mario A.

Third Committee Member

McDermott, Virginia

Fourth Committee Member

Delaney, Harold