Emotional responses to climate change information and their effects on policy support
The discussion of climate change is fraught with emotions. People who are convinced of the necessity for climate action, as well as those who are skeptical, tend to experience anger and fear when the topic arises, which is one reason that climate change is often avoided as a topic of conversation (Norgaard, 2006). The optimal emotional tone for climate communication has been debated in both the scholarly and popular press, with some advocating for strong emotive language and others arguing for dispassionate discourse (Markowitz and Shariff, 2012; Huntley, 2020).
In this study, we examined multiple discrete emotions that people experience in reaction to four types of information about climate change: its causes, scientific consensus on the issue, its impacts, and solutions. Specifically, we have reported the results of a climate message experiment where we randomly assigned participants to one of five video conditions (a no-video control group and then one of four whiteboard-style videos, each focused on one aspect of climate change: causes, consensus, impacts, or solutions) and then asked participants to report the emotions they feel about climate change and their support for a range of climate policies. While previous studies have explored similar research questions (Feldman and Hart, 2018; Nabi et al., 2018), our research contributes to a deeper understanding of individuals’ emotional reactions to climate information by assessing the relationships between these four types of messages and five discrete emotions (guilt, anger, hope, fear, and sadness), testing whether (a) these types of climate information influence people’s emotional reactions to climate change and (b) these discrete emotions mediate the impacts of these types of climate information on support for climate change policy.