Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
AzuraP_Thesis_FinalDraft_31.03.22.pdf (1.93 MB)

“Climate Catastrophe”: The Role of Fear Appeals in Climate Change Communication

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posted on 2022-03-31, 20:02 authored by Patterson, Azura

Climate change is a highly pressing global issue. Addressing climate change requires co-operation on many levels, including at the individual and collective level. Appealing to fear is a common strategy employed by climate change communicators to motivate mitigation behaviours. Recently, a growing body of research has emerged where specific fear appeal frameworks, such as the Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) are applied to climate change communication. The EPPM postulates that fear appeals must be countered with adequate recommendations for taking protective action, termed “efficacy” messaging. According to the EPPM, providing efficacy recommendations prevents people from disengaging with fear appeals.

Thus far, few studies have applied the EPPM as framework for motivating collective mitigation actions, such as taking part in protests and signing petitions. This study aims to address this research gap. Specifically, this study investigates the hypothesis that a low to moderately frightening message about the impacts of climate change combined with an efficacy message may be most effective for motivating individual mitigation actions (e.g. household energy saving). Conversely, a high fear message about the impacts of climate change combined with an efficacy message may be most effective for motivating collective mitigation actions (e.g. participating in climate protests). This hypothesis was tested using a 2 x 2 experimental design that included a message intervention administered via an online survey.

Contrary to these hypotheses, there was no overall effect for the ‘high’ vs. ‘low’ fear message intervention on either individual or collective action intentions. Providing a specific efficacy message (vs. not) did not significantly increase individual action intentions but did significantly increase collective action intentions. Analyses also demonstrated that perceptions of severity (i.e. perceived seriousness of climate change) were more strongly associated with collective action intentions compared with individual action intentions. Overall, the study findings supported the EPPM as a framework for motivating both individual and collective action intentions to mitigate climate change.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Abrahamse, Wokje