Framing Climate Uncertainty: Frame Choices Reveal and Influence Climate Change Beliefs

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Kause, Astrid, Tarlise (Tarlie) Townsend, and Wolfgang Gaissmaier. 2018. "Framing Climate Uncertainty: Frame Choices Reveal and Influence Climate Change Beliefs." Weather, Climate, and Society, 11(1): 199-215.

The public debate around climate change is increasingly polarized. At the same time, the scientific consensus about the causes and consequences of climate change is strong. This inconsistency poses challenges for mitigation and adaptation efforts. The translation of uncertain numerical climate projections into simpler but ambiguous verbal frames may contribute to this polarization. In two experimental studies, we investigated 1) how ?communicators? verbally frame a confidence interval regarding projected change in winter precipitation due to climate change (N = 512) and 2) how ?listeners? interpret these verbal frames (N = 385). Both studies were preregistered at the Open Science Framework. Communicators who perceived the change as more severe chose a concerned rather than an unconcerned verbal frame. Furthermore, communicators? verbal frames were associated with their more general beliefs, like political affiliation and environmental values. Listeners exposed to the concerned frame perceived climate change?induced precipitation change to be more severe than those receiving the unconcerned frame. These results are in line with two pilot studies (N = 298 and N = 393, respectively). Underlying general beliefs about climate and the environment likely shape public communication about climate in subtle ways, and thus verbal framing by the media, policymakers, and peers may contribute to public polarization on climate change.


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