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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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, linguistics, sociology, psychology, and political science. It has been studied with respect to interpersonal communication, persuasion, politics, and its influence on mass media.


Salience in communication

Salience is used as a measure of how prominent or relevant perception coincide with reality.

Axioms of salience

Communication scholars have found a number of different factors have a direct effect on the salience of attitude objects.


Direct experience

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. (Crano)

For example: Consider two people: one with emphysema, one without. Both of whom share a negative attitude toward cigarette smoking. The person with emphysema would have a stronger attitude than his counterpart, and consequently would show greater consistency between his relevant attitude and behavior. It is posited by Crano that the attitude toward smoking of the person with emphysema may be more salient due to his direct experience with the consequence of smoking.

Personal consequence

Attitude objects that are personally consequential will be more salient, and vested interest, in turn, will foster attitude consistent action. If an attitude object is salient, there will be an increase in its vested interest, as well as an increase in the likelihood of a consistency in attitudes being consonant with behavior (Sears).

For example: The looming disaster of Hurricane Katrina as an attitude object was more salient to those living in New Orleans as opposed to other parts of the country. Due to the personal consequence of disaster, Hurricane Katrina as an attitude object was more salient and in turn more highly vested. Although citizens across the country share similar attitudes toward the natural disaster, those living closer to New Orleans were more consistent in their behaviors reflecting their attitudes. Because the attitude object (disaster) was more salient to those living closer, they exhibited behavior (community service, evacuation) that was reflected in the prominence of their attitudes.

Needs and aspirations

The salience (prominence) of an attitude can also be measured by the relevance of an idea to that person’s needs or aspirations. (Showers) 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).

For example: In times of elections, issue relevant events are the focus of attention. Therefore, candidates, due to their aspiration for a certain political position are interest driven toward the salient events since they are favorable to their party.

Salience and policy making

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.

The first ("classical") interpretation considers salience to be independent of the “status quo” and politicians’ ideal policies and programs. Although it says salience is independent of ideals, it does not say that salience is independent of preferences. This means, where there is a change in salience there is also a change in preferences. Often a player or policymaker’s ideals may not be known but their preferences are usually revealed in their party’s manifestos. Often policymakers cannot achieve their ideals but rather must choose between the offers on the table. They may prefer one over the other and this is where salience affects a party or a politician’s position on an issue.

The second ("valence") interpretation proposes that for certain issues salience is a very important factor. In other words, when there is a general consensus of principles, the relative salience of various issues amongst the public determines the policy position of policy makers. This is due to constraints in policy making, where ideals are often induced, which policy makers view as the tradeoff space. For example, although “ideally” they may like to see low unemployment and low inflation, they are usually constrained to pick a position on the “tradeoff” line. Thus, their ideal has been induced due to constraints. In these situations salience and policy position are almost interchangeable, because their “induced ideal” is their “favored allocation.” In the classical interpretation, salience would be used to describe the different levels of preference between positions on policies.

The third (“price”) interpretation assumes that salience is not separate from ideals, as the classical view states, but that it is also not the same as ideals, as the valence view claims. This interpretation assumes that although a group of players, sharing benevolent preferences, all dissatisfied with the status quo, may still value different aspects differently when considering policy change. The price interpretation is favored over the other two for three reasons. First, it is more applicable. Unlike, the classical view, the price interpretation can be applied to a more wide-ranging set of situations. Second, the Price interpretation uses both the classical point of view and ideals in its evaluation of salience. Not only do you need to know a player’s weighted preferences but also their connection to their ideal point and the status quo. Therefore a change in salience can reflect a change in ideal point, status quo, or their weighted preferences. Third, this interpretation can be used to determine the elements stand in importance or worth. For example, players may organize and focus their time and energy into options with the biggest pay off. “That is they may look to see where they get the greatest ‘bang for their buck.’” (8)

Salience and public opinion

A particular study that researched salience and public opinion examined most of the agenda-setting research since the 1968 presidential election 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, this article searched at 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.(9)

Salience in marketing stimuli

Although salience is a stimulus respnse, is it a stimulus quality or an absolute quality? (Guido, 2001)

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).” (Harwood, Raman & Hewstone 2006)

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 1 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.” (Harwood, Raman & Hewstone 2006)

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." (Guido, 2001)

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.

"This model is part of wider Dichotic theory of salience, according to which a stimulus is salient either when it is incongruent in a certain context to a perceiver's schema, or when it is congruent in a certain context to a perceiver's goal. According to the four propositions of the model, in-salient stimuli are better recalled, affect both attention and interpretation, and are moderated by the degree of perceivers' comprehension (i.e., activation, accessibility, and availability of schemata), and involvement (i.e., personal relevance of the stimuli). Results of two empirical studies on print advertisements show that in-salient ad messages have the strongest impact in triggering ad processing which, in turn, leads to consumer awareness." (Guido, 2001 pg 1)

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.

Dr. William Crano

Dr. Crano’s work on Salience originates from his 1995 Article on Vested interest. As an expert in social psychology, he believes that social attitudes are an important and “fundamental preoccupation” to the field of psychology. Although his work on Vested interest was, in large part, written at the University of Arizona. He is currently the Oskamp Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences (SBOS), at Claremont Graduate University. In addition to serving as a Senior Scientist for NATO, he is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society (William). Salience is one of the 5 Components highlighted in Dr. William Crano’s model of Vested interest. These include Stake, Salience, Certainty, Immediacy, and Self-Efficacy. Dr. Crano defines Vested interest as the extent to which an attitude object is hedonically relevant for the attitude holder. (Crano)


1. Crano, W. D. (1995). Attitude strength and vested interest. In R. E. Petty & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: Antecedents and Consequences. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 131-158.

2. Harwood, J., Raman, P., & Hewstone, M. (2006, July). The Family and Communication Dynamics of Group Salience. Journal of Family Communication, 6(3), 181-200. Retrieved July 29, 2008, doi:10.1207/s15327698jfc0603_2

3. Higgins, E. T., & Bargh, J. A. (1987). Social cognition and social perception. Annual Review of Psychology, 38, 369-425.

4. Humphreys & Garry, M & J (2000).Thinking about salience. Early drafts from Columbia. 1-55.

5. Guido, Gianluigi (2001). The Salience of Marketing Stimuli: An incongruity – salience hypothesison consumer awareness. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

6. Sears, D. O., & Citrin, J. (1985). Tax revolt: Something for nothing in California (enlarged ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

7. Showers, C., & Cantor, N. (1985). Social cognition: A look at motivated strategies. Annual Review of Psychology, 36, 275-305.

8. The new shorter Oxford English dictionary. 1993. New York: Oxford University Press

9. Vested interest. (2008, July 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:11, July 29, 2008, from

10. William Crano. (2007, December 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:18, July 21, 2008, from

11. Weaver, D (1991).Issue salience and public opinion: Are there consequences of agenda-setting?. International journal of public opinion research. 1-16.


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