Assistant professor of Architecture Angela Person recently coauthored the article “Climate Change Communication: Examining the Social and Cognitive Barriers to Productive Environmental Communication,” published in Social Science Quarterly. The research looks at the effectiveness of different types of visual appeals that may be used to communicate climate change risk.

This project was led by Sonia Merkel, who carried out the work as part of her undergraduate capstone experience. The research was co-mentored by Person and Randy Peppler, who oversee undergraduate research related to environmental issues in their award-winning Environmental Sustainability Working Group. Undergraduate researcher Sarah Melcher provided additional support for this study.

Citation:

Merkel, S., A. Person, R. Peppler, S. Melcher. “Climate Change Communication: Examining the Social and Cognitive Barriers to Productive Environmental Communication.” Social Science Quarterly. Published July 15, 2020 online. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12843.

Abstract:

Objectives

This study explores the efficacy of visual appeals that may be used to communicate environmental risk.

Methods

To better understand the social and cognitive barriers present in environmental risk communication associated with climate change, we conducted a series of six focus groups. Groups were asked to view images of environmental issues and select the best representation of their feelings out of a range of preselected emotions. While further research is required, preliminary investigation based on the focus groups suggests several themes.

Results

First, an individual’s familiarity with both an area and an event will decrease the individual’s perception of urgency; conversely, the participants expressed greater concern for events that were local and new—in other words, familiarity diminishes urgency, while emergent problems create alacrity. Second, participants expressed a sentiment of tacit blame, in which the participant’s own contribution to the issue received less emphasis when ascribing fault. Last, the participants reacted positively toward messages that emphasized a hopeful and solution‐based narrative and were seemingly less motivated by images that relied on fear‐based messaging.

Conclusions

Preliminary findings suggest that hopeful, solution‐based messaging may be more effective in facilitating pro‐environmental behavior than either fear‐ or guilt‐based appeals.