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- VISUAL COMMUNICATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE : THE EFFECT OF CONSTRUAL LEVEL
- Duan, Ran
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
There is widespread consensus among the scientific community that human-caused climate change is occurring and is one of the most urgent threats facing our planet in the twenty-first century. However, Americans’ concern for climate change is relatively low compared to most regions around the world. Researchers have argued that one important reason for this indifference toward climate change may be the perception that the risk is abstract and psychologically distant, that is, its uncertain...
Show moreThere is widespread consensus among the scientific community that human-caused climate change is occurring and is one of the most urgent threats facing our planet in the twenty-first century. However, Americans’ concern for climate change is relatively low compared to most regions around the world. Researchers have argued that one important reason for this indifference toward climate change may be the perception that the risk is abstract and psychologically distant, that is, its uncertain impacts will affect other people, will happen in other places or sometime in the future. Today, how to effectively communicate climate change in a way that makes the issue more real, local, urgent and relevant is a challenge. Addressing this challenge, this study drew upon construal level theory to investigate the role of abstraction in the visual communication of climate change. Two online experiments were conducted to test how the level of abstraction and concreteness of climate change imagery affects viewers’ psychological distance of climate change, concern for climate change, behavioral intentions toward climate change mitigation and adaptation. This study firstly clarified how psychological distance should be conceptualized, operationalized and integrated into climate change communication efforts by demonstrating the distinction between egocentric and nonegocentric distances. This paves the way for broader applications of psychological distance in decision-making research. Second, results from this study showed abstract images (vs. concrete images) encouraged more abstract thinking, leading people to perceive greater spatial, temporal and social distance between climate change and themselves. The greater psychological distance perceptions further discouraged people’s concern for climate change and intention to act, though the effect was small relative to other environmentalism factors such as self-efficacy and self-transcendent values. These findings show the potential usefulness of abstract versus concrete messaging strategies for future environmental and behavioral research. Last, findings revealed that an image’s level of abstraction moderated the effect of key sociopolitical factors (self-efficacy, self-transcendent values, political orientation) on climate change related attitudes and behavioral intentions. This finding expands the current literature by providing a clearer understanding of the psychological mechanisms in climate change visual communication; it emphasizes how previously identified communication strategies for concretizing climate change may backfire and how climate change interventions affect people differently. Practically, this study provides evidence-based visual communication strategies to the newspaper and broadcasting industries, policy makers, and visual communication practitioners regarding how to more effectively design and use abstract and concrete visuals in communication campaigns aimed at influencing society’s concern for climate change and perceived urgency of the issue.