Effective Paleontological Framing of Climate Change Evidence to Influence Audience Perceptions

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2020

Authors

Zhang, Annie L.

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Abstract

The way that media, scientists and others talk about climate change in the messages that they disseminate has an impact on how the public thinks about the topic. This phenomenon is called “framing.” To date, research on framing tends to focus on frames related to personal relevance, future effects (e.g. economic benefits or public health risks), uncertainty and attitudes. However, these frames largely ignore the scientific data inherent within climate change messages. While such data may be present in experimental message designs, generally it is not manipulated for study. In this experimental study, we examine the effects of two types of climate change data on research participants’ perceptions of climate change: computer-derived climate modeling data and data derived from paleoclimate artifacts and evidence. We also investigate the impact of embedding the two types of data within messages that frame climate change as are either hopeful or desperate. To test these messages, we recruited a population of 417 US participants to participate in a pre- post-test online experimental survey design in which they answered several questions related to intentions, emotions and behaviors towards climate change, then were exposed to one of four experimental conditions (paleoclimate with hopeful language/paleoclimate with desperate language/computer-derived with hopeful language/computer-derived with desperate language), and then answered the same series of questions related to intentions, emotions and behaviors towards climate change. Our results suggest that for our manipulations, a “paleo” frame is more effective at connecting with people on an emotional level. However, our data does not provide definitive support for the practical effects of framing around data type on engagement, intention to seek more information or intention to take action.

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