Prosocial Messages And Perceptual Screens: Framing Global Climate Change
Climate change will likely have significant negative impacts on humans, animals, and the environment. The potential severity of these effects has generated a need for effective messages that communicate both the nature of climate change and actions that may be taken to prevent the worst impacts from occurring. The studies presented in this dissertation examine how perceptual screens and message structures affect the interpretation and application of climate change messages. Three studies respectively examine how individuals respond to messages that vary by the social identity of potential victims, episodic vs. thematic descriptions of potential victims, and the presence or absence of statistics when discussing the impacts of climate change on potential victims. Data from study 1 reveals a significant interaction between experimental participants' political party identification and the identity of climate change victims, with news stories discussing out-group victims generating a boomerang effect among Republicans. Study 2 finds that individual behavior change was not sensitive to episodic and thematic message manipulation, but thematic frames were more effective in building support for climate change policies by increasing the attribution of responsibility to society at large. The final study examines how numeracy may moderate how the presence or absence of statistics in a news story impacts public willingness to donate to organizations working on the issue of climate change. The results from study 3 reveal that low-numerate individuals were sensitive to numeric framing effects and were willing to donate more when persuasive messages included statistics than when they did not, while high numerate individuals were not affected by presence or absence of numbers. This dissertation demonstrates the importance of taking perceptual screens and message structure into account when designing prosocial messages. Considerations for applying these research findings and avenues for future research building from these studies are discussed.
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