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