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Stories vs. facts: triggering emotion and action-taking on climate change

Author

Listed:
  • Brandi S. Morris

    () (Aarhus University)

  • Polymeros Chrysochou

    (Aarhus University
    University of South Australia)

  • Jacob Dalgaard Christensen

    (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)

  • Jacob L. Orquin

    (Aarhus University
    Reykjavik University)

  • Jorge Barraza

    (University of Southern California)

  • Paul J. Zak

    (Claremont Graduate University)

  • Panagiotis Mitkidis

    (Aarhus University
    Duke University)

Abstract

Climate change is an issue which elicits low engagement, even among concerned segments of the public. While research suggests that the presentation of factual information (e.g., scientific consensus) can be persuasive to some audiences, there is also empirical evidence indicating that it may also increase resistance in others. In this research, we investigate whether climate change narratives structured as stories are better than informational narratives at promoting pro-environmental behavior in diverse audiences. We propose that narratives structured as stories facilitate experiential processing, heightening affective engagement and emotional arousal, which serve as an impetus for action-taking. Across three studies, we manipulate the structure of climate change communications to investigate how this influences narrative transportation, measures of autonomic reactivity indicative of emotional arousal, and pro-environmental behavior. We find that stories are more effective than informational narratives at promoting pro-environmental behavior (studies 1 and 3) and self-reported narrative transportation (study 2), particularly those with negatively valenced endings (study 3). The results of study 3 indicate that embedding information in story structure influences cardiac activity, and subsequently, pro-environmental behavior. These findings connect works from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, narratology, and climate change communication, advancing our understanding of how narrative structure influences engagement with climate change through emotional arousal, which likely incites pro-environmental behavior as the brain’s way of optimizing bodily budgets.

Suggested Citation

  • Brandi S. Morris & Polymeros Chrysochou & Jacob Dalgaard Christensen & Jacob L. Orquin & Jorge Barraza & Paul J. Zak & Panagiotis Mitkidis, 2019. "Stories vs. facts: triggering emotion and action-taking on climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 154(1), pages 19-36, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:154:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s10584-019-02425-6
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-019-02425-6
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    Cited by:

    1. Kimberly Bryan & Sarah Ward & Liz Roberts & Mathew P. White & Owen Landeg & Tim Taylor & Lindsey McEwen, 2020. "The health and well-being effects of drought: assessing multi-stakeholder perspectives through narratives from the UK," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 163(4), pages 2073-2095, December.
    2. Heidi Hendersson & Christine Wamsler, 2020. "New stories for a more conscious, sustainable society: claiming authorship of the climate story," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 158(3), pages 345-359, February.
    3. Candice Howarth & Laurie Parsons, 2021. "Assembling a coalition of climate change narratives on UK climate action: a focus on the city, countryside, community and home," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 164(1), pages 1-19, January.

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