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March 07, 2021 Sunday 07:24:09 PM IST

Should Climate Change Communications be Emotional?

Most communications by researchers and academicians are based on instilling fear, guilt, lose of hope and pride. However, communications triggering negative or positive emotions can have opposite effects unless fear and hope are balanced, according to Tobias Brosch, Professor of Psychology at University of Geneva (UNIGE). He conducted a review of literature on climate change and his study showed that communication based on fear or hope must be carefully measured in order to avoid any immobility in citizen action and that actions in favour of sustainable development can trigger a virtuous circle of behaviour by making their authors feel a sense of pride that pushes them to continue on this path. 

“Over-emphasising the climate disaster could lead to a sense of powerlessness, leading people to think that it is already too late anyway, so what is the point of changing their ha bits?” says Tobias Brosch. “However, this negative effect of fear hasn’t so far really been observed in the context of climate change, it seems that negative messages rather strengthen the will to act,” he says.

And what would happen if hope were conveyed? “It has been found that very positive communications conveying hope can also lead to a lack of action, with people giving up on changing their behaviour, because in the end we are moving in the right direction”, says the Geneva psychologist.

It is therefore a question of finding the right balance in order to avoid the counterproductive effects of fear and hope. It is therefore important that policy makers work with psychologists of emotion on the design of pro-environmental interventions in order to define the right messages.