Comparing Theoretical Explanations for the Empirical Effects of Presenting Climate Change as a Health Issue on Social Media

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It is not surprising that the dominant cognitive frame through which most audiences view climate change is that of an environmental problem. However, this messaging strategy has proven susceptible to counter-attacks, defensing processing, and other cognitive biases. As such, many environmental advocates are switching gears. From Barack Obama to Pope Francis, the environment-as-public-health-concern narrative is increasingly found in climate change messages. This strategy involves making the abstract issue of climate change more concrete by tying it to negative health impacts, like asthma, heat-related illness, and the spread of disease. Understanding why and for whom this strategy is persuasive, particularly in a social media context where users often encounter persuasive climate change messages, can help advance theory and practice. The purpose of this chapter is two-fold: 1.) Test the effects of climate message frame (damage to nature or damage to public health), message source (liberal or conservative organization), and the use of visual human exemplars (present or absent) in social media messages; and, 2.) Assess the predictive utility of different conceptual frameworks (personification, construal level theory, and moral foundations theory) as explanatory mechanisms for persuasive social media climate message effects. The results of a nation-wide experiment reveal that the use of visual exemplars matters when climate change is framed as an environmental problem, but otherwise message frame, source, and visual exemplar use have little impact on policy attitudes. Further analyses demonstrated that multiple conceptual mechanisms related to the aforementioned theories help explain social media effects on climate change attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationClimate Change, Media and Culture
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Issues in Global Environmental Communication
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781787699670
ISBN (Print)9781787699687
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • General Business, Management and Accounting


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