Yang Research Examines Effects of Psychological Mechanisms on Public Perception of Climate Change

Published March 5, 2019 This content is archived.

Hurricane threats, rising sea levels and wildfires are causing local leaders to assess the hazards and vulnerabilities of their communities. Dr. Janet Yang, associate professor of communication, conducted a series of experiments highlighting the impact of climate change in the U.S. and other countries.

The Society for Risk Analysis states that "Risk assessment and risk mitigation practices can be benefitial in creating adaptation plans and risk mitigation decisions for coastal communities." Scientists have stated that previous disaster prevention plans are “no longer adequate for current threats from severe weather.”

Despite the severity of climate change impact, the public’s response has been minimal. Evidence has shown that psychological mechanisms such as motivated reasoning could discourage certian segments of the population from paying attention to climate-change related information and warnings.

Dr. Janet Yang aims to combat this inattention. Alongside her team of researchers, Dr. Yang aspires to inform and spread the message of climate change impact. Particularly, climate change’s “impacts on familiar objects, such as coffee, or on an unfamiliar disease, such as babesiosis.”

Dr. Yang’s study, “Using psychological distance as a framing strategy to communicate about climate change” examined whether these messages were influential on American adults’ risk perceptions and emotional responses to climate change.  Working with her team, she also examined support for climate mitigation policies and intentions to engage in pro-environmental behaviors.

The study found that emphasizing climate change impacts in a different country or which were unfamiliar to individuals resulted in a higher reliance on their preexisting political ideologies. However, if the impacts were closer to home and individuals could foresee the consequences, ideological polarization was reduced.

“Cultivating the sense of closeness is even more critical when strong issue-specific values are yet to be formed in segments of the population,” states Yang. “Therefore, scholars need to identify more effective strategies to narrow the psychological distance of important social issues.”

Read the full article on Phys Org here.