Hearts or Minds? Identifying Persuasive Messages on Climate Change

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Albertson, Bethany
Busby, Joshua William

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Sage Journals


This article sheds light on what kinds of appeals persuade the US public on climate change. Using an experimental design, we assign a diverse sample of 330 participants to one of four conditions: an economic self-interest appeal, a moral appeal, a mixed appeal combining self-interest and morality and a control condition with no persuasive appeal.1 Participants were then asked a series of questions about their willingness to support advocacy efforts, including such actions as writing a letter to Congress, signing a petition and joining an organization. We hypothesized that for issues like climate change where it is expensive to address the problem, arguments based on self-interest are more likely to be persuasive than moral appeals. Our experiment yielded some surprising results. Knowledge was an important moderator of people’s attitudes on climate change in response to the persuasive messages. We found that among respondents who were more knowledgeable about climate change that the economic frame was most the persuasive in terms of a subject’s willingness to take actions to support the cause. However, among low knowledge respondents, the control condition without messaging yielded the most concern.


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