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Feeling Bad or Anxious


Academic year: 2023

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Feeling Bad or Anxious

Emotional Appeals in Climate Change Mitigation Campaigns

Master’s Thesis

Graduate School of Communication Master’s programme Communication Science

Name of the Author: Viola Pieger

Name of the Supervisor: Dr. Bert Bakker Student ID: 13332759

Date: 23. June 2021



Climate change is a real and serious threat, which can only be contained with broad public en- gagement and large-scale mitigation activities. Drawing from framing theory, this study in- vestigates emotional appeals, namely anxiety, guilt, and disgust, in climate change mitigation campaigns, to see if they prove to be promising tools to enhance concern about climate

change and various types of pro-environmental behaviour among the audience. To account for interindividual differences between message recipients, emotional granularity was included both as a trait and as a performance-based feature to test whether it would moderate these re- lationships. Findings of a pre-registered online experiment revealed that unlike expected nei- ther guilt, disgust, nor anxiety were effective in increasing concern about climate change, cli- mate change mitigation policy support, and individual mitigation behaviour among highly en- gaged participants. One expectation that held marginally true was that campaigns framed in a disgust-inducing way did lead to less climate-related information seeking compared to cam- paigns eliciting anxiety or guilt. Moreover, introducing emotional granularity did not moder- ate these relationships. Exploratory analyses indicated that emotional granularity as a trait in- directly predicted the outcome variables via political ideology in a way that less granular peo- ple were more right-leaning and reported lower pro-environmental concern and behaviour.

Implications for communication professionals trying to enhance climate change mitigation are discussed.


emotional appeals, emotional granularity, climate change, framing


The danger is great.

The time is short.

We are unprepared.

But we can change that.

- Brooks et al., 2019, p. 21

It is undeniable: global warming is happening. Without interference, it is predicted that aver- age temperature around the world would rise between 1.5-5.8°C by the end of this century (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, 2001). While climate change is commonly asso- ciated with warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, extreme weather events, and rising sea lev- els (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d.), less popularly, climate change events also facilitate the spread of emerging infectious diseases like Zika, Cholera, and Den- gue across the globe (Heffernan, 2018; Wu et al., 2016). To contain these developments and to stop global warming, successful mitigation activities are needed.

One possible strategy that is often used to increase vast public engagement in climate change mitigation is the use of communication campaigns which employ “emotional, often scary messages, seeking to convey the gravity of this issue to the public and, ultimately, stim- ulate personal and collective behaviours that minimize one’s carbon footprint and promote broader environmental advocacy efforts” (Skurka et al., 2018, p. 170). But is that really the right way to go to reach the masses (Howarth et al., 2020)?

To answer this question, the present study will investigate climate change mitigation campaigns and particularly the role of emotional appeals within these campaigns, since previ- ous research found considerations about emotions in climate-related messages to be one of the most crucial aspects for effectively increasing engagement in pro-environmental activities (Roeser, 2012) and environmental knowledge (Carmi et al., 2015). So far, three distinct emo- tions, namely hope, anger, and fear, have enjoyed vast scholarly attention. They have been demonstrated to positively predict both climate activism, and support for political action to


combat climate change (Chadwick, 2015; Chen, 2016; Chu & Yang, 2019; Feldman & Hart, 2018; Feldman & Hart, 2016; Li & Huang, 2020). Still, emotional experience is a complex construct (Frijda, 1986) and other emotions such as worry and sadness have also been investi- gated as successful predictors of climate change policy support (Bloodhart et al., 2019; Smith

& Leiserowitz, 2014). In contrast, guilt and anxiety, which might very well also promote peo- ple’s willingness to engage in pro-environmental behaviour (Chu & Yang, 2019; Rees &

Bamberg, 2014), have been studied less thoroughly. Similarly, disgust, which is a direct reac- tion to threat just like anxiety (Lazarus, 1991), has not been studied in this context at all.

Therefore, the present study will investigate the role of guilt, disgust, and anxiety in climate change mitigation campaigns. The goal is to assess the extent to which emotional ap- peals in climate change mitigation campaigns predict concern about climate change and vari- ous types of pro-environmental behaviour. Accordingly, this study conceptually draws from framing theory, particularly the concept of emotional appeals in message framing.

To account for interindividual differences between recipients, this study will integrate the concept of emotional granularity (Feldman Barrett et al., 2001) into the model. Thereby, it will be assessed whether the effect of emotional appeals on concern about climate change, support for climate change mitigation policies, individual climate change mitigation behav- iour, and climate-related information-seeking might be different for a person that can better differentiate between equally valanced emotions.

In doing so, the presented study will contribute to a growing body of research on emo- tional appeals in the context of climate change in multiple ways: For one, the study will en- hance current research on distinct emotional appeals in climate change communication by in- vestigating three promising distinct emotions that have so far gone mostly unheeded. Results will expand the research on formerly proposed influences of emotional appeals on pro-envi- ronmental concern and behaviours by testing the role of similarly valanced, but still distinctly


different emotions, namely disgust, guilt, and anxiety in a quantitative experimental setting.

Additionally, the study will be the first to analyse emotional granularity in the context of cam- paign messages and political participation.

Findings will allow campaign managers and governmental institutions to better tailor their messages to the individual needs of the audience and to make more conscious decisions on whether it is actually beneficial to include affective messages in communication cam- paigns. This knowledge will help to increase the effectiveness of communication campaigns in bringing about intended attitude and behaviour change across issues. Pro-environmental NGOs and social interest groups will thus have better chances to increase vast public partici- pation in climate mitigation, which is crucial for the successful combat of global warming.

Emotional appeals and climate change mitigation

Emotion frames in campaign messages

When it comes to messages about climate change, people usually tend to trust mass media to explain to them the most relevant aspects of the issue (Li & Huang, 2020). These selective presentations of a “subset of issue considerations or attributes over others to an audience”

(Hart, 2011, p. 31) are called frames (Entman, 1993). By framing messages in a specific way, communicators have the power to guide the audience’s interpretation of the given information and aid them to construct meaning (Goffman, 1974; Hart, 2011). In order to promote climate change mitigation, issue frames focusing particularly on actions and outcomes of climate change play an important role, as they have been shown to increase threat perceptions and willingness to sacrifice for climate change mitigation (Bilandzic et al., 2017).

Another promising framing strategy is to use distinct emotions themselves as message frames (Nabi, 2003). Including certain distinct emotions in a message frame shapes how


appropriate persuasive messages are deemed (Van’t Riet et al., 2019) and how supportive the audience is of a presented policy (Lecheler et al., 2013; Nabi, 2003), whereby the direction of these effects depends on the respective included emotion. Such emotion-inducing frames are called emotional appeals. Markowitz and Shariff (2012) identified the use of emotional ap- peals to be one of the most favourable ways to frame messages about climate change since they increase the perceived urgency of the issue. Emotional appeals can be understood as con- sisting of mechanisms that elicit distinct emotions in the audience (Kaid & Johnston, 1991, p.

56). Moreover, they are defined as “attempts to elicit, or make salient, object-related emo- tions” (Roselli et al., 1995, p. 165) and are often contrasted with rational appeals, meaning “a message containing facts and information” (ibid., p. 164).

The present study focuses on the use of three distinct emotional appeals in climate change mitigation campaigns, namely anxiety-, disgust-, and guilt-appeals, since all three of them prove promising for climate change communication (Chu & Yang, 2019). Both anxiety and disgust are natural reactions to threat (Clifford & Jerit, 2018; Lazarus, 1991), but they manifest in greatly different ways. Anxiety is characterised by uncertainty (Lazarus, 1991) and the perception that a threat is outside one’s control (Clifford & Jerit, 2018). Therefore, it may occur due to the abstract and gloomy perspective of climate change (O’Neill & Nichol- son-Cole, 2009). Disgust on the other hand, is embedded in the so-called behavioural immune system, which consists of a series of mental processes designed to fight off any possible path- ogen threats (Aarøe et al., 2017). Therefore, disgust is felt whenever threat is understood more in terms of potential risks of contamination and is known for an urgent need to distance one- self from everything harmful (Lazarus, 1991).

In contrast to anxiety and disgust, guilt is a threat-unrelated, self-conscious emotion, which people experience when becoming aware of the anthropogenic nature of climate change (Doherty & Clayton, 2011). Guilt is usually evoked by violations of social norms


(Lazarus, 1991) or more concretely a “discrepancy between [a person’s] knowledge that he/she should behave pro-environmentally and his/her recognition that he/she does not” (Ha

& Kwon, 2016, p. 5). Hence, since all three of the presented emotions are somewhat related to the emerging threat of climate change, the following section will further explore their rela- tionship with different aspects of pro-environmental concern and types of behaviour.

Emotional appeals and pro-environmental behaviour

Concern about climate change

One important concept that has been investigated in previous studies on climate change is concern about climate change (CC), which has been defined as “personal values and percep- tions regarding the environment” (Wonneberger, 2018, p. 171). For climate change mitigation campaigns, eliciting environmental concern among the audience is crucial, as this increases the perceived relevance of the campaign (ibid.) and has furthermore been described to be a precondition of long-term pro-environmental behaviour (Takács-Sánta, 2007).

In terms of a connection between CC and emotions, Chu and Yang (2019) found that increases of anxiety resulting from uniquely framed news messages predicted higher levels of CC among the audience. Disgust on the other hand, significantly increases risk perceptions about one’s health and safety (Karg et al., 2019) and concerns about diseases (Shook et al., 2020). Although disgust has not been linked to CC in particular, the dramatic consequences to humans’ health and safety that are caused by climate change (e.g., spread of emerging infec- tious diseases; Wu et al., 2016) might also increase concerns about the overall source of the harmful pathogens. Furthermore, previous research has established a relationship between guilt and CC in the context of environmental campaigns (Wonneberger, 2018), even though


the direct effect of guilt on CC remained unclear. Hence, the first hypothesis in this study will assess the following:

Support for climate change mitigation policies

Previous research on the role of emotions in the context of climate change revealed that both fear and guilt increased support for climate change mitigation policies (SMP)(Chen, 2016; Lu

& Schuldt, 2015; Smith & Leiserowitz, 2014). Disgust itself has yet to be studied in that re- gard, but as disgust has been found to raise the demand for more governmental involvement in threat-related issues, namely by implementing regulations to protect from potential contam- ination (Aarøe et al., 2017; Kam, 2019; Kam & Estes, 2016), it seems likely that such a desire for protective regulation could also be translated to a wish for more climate change mitigation policies.

This expectation proves particularly interesting as disgust has previously been concep- tualized as a conservative emotion (Inbar et al., 2009), meaning that conservatives tend to have higher levels of disgust sensitivity than liberals (ibid.). Even though this context-inde- pendent assertion has recently been contested and limited to context-specific differences in disgust sensitivity (Elad-Strenger et al., 2020), motivating pro-environmental policy support with disgust would mean enhancing approval of a traditionally liberal issue (McCright &

Dunlap, 2011) even among conservatives. In turn, such a finding would broaden the current understanding of a relationship between political ideology and the experience of disgust.


Accordingly, all three emotions are assumed to increase support for mitigation policies which yields the following expectation:

Individual climate change mitigation behaviour

Taking such pro-environmental concern and governmental policy support one step further, distinct emotions should also be investigated in relation to individual actions taken to mitigate climate change. Individual climate change mitigation behaviour (IMB) can be understood as pro-environmental behaviour that “consciously seeks to minimize the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world (e.g., minimize resource and energy consumption, use of non-toxic substances, reduce waste production)” (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002, p. 240).

Looking at the separate emotions, anxiety has already been shown to promote climate change mitigation action, even above and beyond the closely related emotion of fear (Chu & Yang, 2019). Furthermore, guilt has been found to increase the likelihood for people to engage in climate activism and pro-environmental behaviour (Elgaaied, 2012; Rees & Bamberg, 2014;

Swim & Bloodhart, 2015; Wang & Lin, 2018), while disgust motivates avoidance of threat- related issues like infectious diseases and increases topic disengagement (Clifford & Jerit, 2018). Hence, it is expected:


Climate-related information seeking

A final aspect that seems relevant in the context of climate change is whether people are in- clined to engage in climate-related information seeking (CIS) to become more knowledgea- ble. Informing oneself is important, since increasing a person’s environmental knowledge is vital to motivating them to engage in further action to protect the environment (Carmi et al., 2015). Affective Intelligence Theory proposes a positive relationship between anxiety and in- formation seeking behaviour which should help formulate political judgements (Marcus et al., 2000). Disgust on the other hand has been demonstrated to decrease willingness to further seek threat-related information (Clifford & Jerit, 2018). Regarding guilt, it is known that guilty people aspire to make good for their unfavourable behaviour (Lazarus, 1991). There- fore, one might expect that they would also seek out further information on the relevant issue to better plan their reparative actions. Thus, it is expected:

Emotional Granularity as a moderator of various types of pro-environmental behaviour and concern

When talking about the role of emotional appeals in campaign messages, it has to be acknowl- edged that there can be quite significant interindividual differences in affective information processing (Seo & Feldman Barrett, 2007). A theoretical concept which is often referred to in that regard is emotion differentiation or, as it is also called, emotional granularity, which is defined as the extent to which people can identify and discriminate their individual feeling states (Feldman Barrett et al., 2001). Higher granular individuals are thus able to describe their emotional experiences employing distinct emotion concepts rather than just a vague


indication of more or less pleasantness (Feldman Barrett et al., 2001; Kashdan et al., 2015).

Higher levels of emotional granularity have been shown to lead to better emotion regulation, more empathic accuracy, less maladaptive self-regulatory behaviour, and more overall well- being (Erbas et al., 2016; Tugade et al., 2004). Especially when being confronted with nega- tive emotions – like the experience of anxiety, disgust, and guilt in the face of climate change – effective emotion regulation is desperately needed (Feldman Barrett et al., 2001).

For the context of the present study, the most relevant finding is that emotional granu- larity has also been associated with better source awareness (Johnson et al., 1993) and deci- sion making (Cameron et al., 2013; Gendron & Feldman Barrett, 2019; Seo & Feldman Bar- rett, 2007). Accordingly, by making people aware of the cause of an emotional experience, higher levels of emotional granularity can in turn decrease affect misattribution, meaning they are less prone to affective cues shaping their evaluations of unrelated events (Ruys et al., 2012).

For the emotional appeals in climate change mitigation campaigns, this could indicate that higher granular people would be able to correctly retrace their emotional experiences to the campaign appeal, which could then reduce the intended campaign effect on environmental concerns and impact the decision to engage in subsequent climate change mitigation behav- iour. A similar inhibiting moderation effect has previously been found in a study by Cameron et al. (2013), who discovered that higher levels of emotional granularity decreased the effect of incidental disgust on moral judgments. In contrast, it could also be argued that emotional appeals would be more effective for higher granular people. Their ability to describe their emotional experiences in a way that differentiates distinct emotion concepts could make them aware of multiple, closely related emotions that are elicited by an emotional appeal condition and make the emotion experience stronger. Accordingly, the exploratory character of


combining emotional granularity and political communication justifies the investigation of two competing hypotheses:


To assess the extent to which emotional appeals in climate change mitigation campaigns pre- dict CC, SMP, IMB, and CIS, as well as the potential moderating effect of emotional granu- larity on these relationships, a randomized, controlled online experimental survey with four conditions (disgust, guilt, anxiety, rational) was fielded in May 2021. Responding to recent calls for open science approaches in communication research (Dienlin et al., 2021; Nosek et al., 2018), the present study was pre-registered on the AsPredicted website (see https://aspre- dicted.org/blind.php?x=pw86zko) to make a distinction between prediction and postdiction.


After informed consent and two sets of questions to assess people’s emotional granularity, re- spondents were asked to answer an attention check question (Berinsky et al., 2014), which should ensure that participants attentively read the provided information in the experiment.

Respondents who failed the attention check on the first try received a warning message, ask- ing them to read the question again more carefully, and were then – in line with the pre-regis- tration – excluded from the analyses if they again answered incorrectly.


Then, participants were randomly assigned to see either one of four (anxiety vs. guilt vs. disgust vs. rational) Instagram posts about climate change that were designed using a pub- lic health frame. The decision to use a public health frame in this context followed previous findings by Myers et al. (2012), who showed that public health frames are a powerful tactic to raise awareness about climate change in the public. All four posts presented the emerging risk of dengue in Europe, since dengue is expected to increase in numbers across all of Europe throughout the 21st century, due to rising global temperatures (Bouzid et al., 2014, p. 1).

Across conditions, mitigating climate change was presented as a solution to effectively limit the rise of dengue fever in Europe (Liu-Helmersson et al., 2016) and to in turn be a use- ful tool for health prevention. Also, the length of the post descriptions, number of likes and comments, as well as the accompanying background photo were kept identical across all four posts.

To elicit guilt, participants in the respective condition were confronted with a main statement that referred to their failure of engaging in normatively desirable climate change mitigation behaviours and references to the anthropogenic nature of climate change. Disgust was induced by presenting core disgust-inducing symptoms like bleeding from the nose or gums (Kam, 2019), which are characteristic for more severe dengue infections (World Health Organization, 2020; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).

Following the study by Clifford and Jerit (2018), anxiety was evoked by presenting dengue’s potentially lethal outcome. Finally, the rational condition presented a neutral den- gue-related informational statement of similar length. After exposure, participants answered a post-exposure attention check, a manipulation check, and questions assessing the dependent variables, followed by main demographics.

The stimuli material underwent four independent rounds of between-subjects pilot- testing (see Appendix A for an overview). In the final round of pilot-testing (N = 51),


participants, when asked to state which of the three emotions (disgust, anxiety, guilt) was in- duced by the Instagram post they saw, on average, rated the respective emotion of their condi- tion higher than the two remaining emotions. In the rational appeal condition, the overall rat- ings of all three emotions were relatively lower (see Appendix B for the final version of the stimuli).


If not indicated otherwise, all variables were measured on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 = Very unlikely to 7 = Very likely. A complete list of all items that were used to measure the dependent variables and the moderator in this study can be found in Appendix C.

Concern about climate change. CC was assessed on a 7-point scale (1 = Not at all, 7 = Very) using two items (“How concerned are you about climate change?” and “How seri- ous are the current impacts of climate change?”) taken from Chu and Yang (2019). The items were measured on a unidimensional (EV = 1.55) scale, explaining 77.38% of the variance and were averaged together to create a climate concern scale that showed a good reliability (M = 6.38, SD = 0.93, α = .71).

Support for climate change mitigation policies. Four items (e.g., “Regulating carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases as pollutants”) were adopted from Feldman and Hart (2018) to measure SMP. An exploratory factor analysis demonstrated that the scale was unidi- mensional (EV = 2.67), while explaining 66.84% of the variance. Responses to all four items were averaged together to create a policy support scale (M = 6.16, SD = 1.03, α = .83).

Individual climate change mitigation behaviour. IMB was measured using five items, previously validated by Skurka et al. (2018). Example items are: “Walk, bike, carpool, or use public transport when possible” and “When shopping, use your own bag”. An explora- tory factor analysis demonstrated that the scale was unidimensional (EV = 2.06), explaining


41.16% of the variance. All items were averaged into a climate change mitigation behaviour scale (M = 6.03, SD = 0.84, α = .60).

Climate-related information seeking. As the fourth dependent variable, CIS was measured using two adjusted items (“Look up more information about dengue and its connec- tion to climate change in the future” and “Discuss this issue with your friends or family”), taken from Clifford and Jerit (2018). Again, both items were averaged together to create a unidimensional information seeking scale (EV = 1.63, explaining 81.40% of the variance) that showed a good reliability (M = 3.98, SD = 1.74, α = .77).

Emotional Granularity. Following the pre-registration, emotional granularity was measured both as a trait and with a performance-based measurement before exposure to the stimulus.

For the trait emotional granularity measure respondents were asked to rate five items about their self-perceived ability to distinguish their emotions (e.g., “I am aware of the differ- ent nuances or subtleties of a given emotion”) on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 = does not describe me very well to 7 = describes me extremely well, taken from Kang and Shaver (2004).Based on the formulation of the items, three items had to be reverse coded, so that higher scores on the scale always implied a higher level of emotional granularity for all items.

The resulting emotion granularity trait scale (M = 4.99, SD = 0.97) proved to have an accepta- ble reliability (α = .63). To investigate the moderating effect of emotional granularity as a trait, in the final analyses, participants were divided in a high granularity versus a low granu- larity group on the basis of median emotional granularity in the sample (Mdn = 5.00). The group with low levels of emotional granularity thereafter consisted of 202 people, with a mean emotional granularity of M = 4.22 (SD = 0.65), whereas the high granular group con- sisted of 191 people with a mean emotional granularity of M= 5.80 (SD = 0.45).


For the performance-based measure participants’ actual skill of differentiating their emotions was assessed by asking them to indicate how much they experienced every one of eight emotions (e.g., relaxed, happy, depressed, angry) on a scale ranging from 1 = not at all, to 100 = very much (adopted from Erbas et al., 2016). This allowed to analyse variance of rat- ings across similarly valanced emotions. Since highly granular people differentiate well be- tween equally valanced emotions, they should have a high variance across similar emotions, while people with low levels of granularity should not.

Unlike expected, the variance across positive emotions did not correlate with the vari- ance across negative emotions, r(393) = -.035, p = .485, meaning that people who knew how to differentiate between positive emotions did not necessarily have the same skill when it came to negative emotions. Such a discrepancy points towards a relevant difference between positive and negative emotional granularity, which has also been argued for in previous stud- ies (Feldman Barrett et al., 2001; Tugade et al., 2004).

Furthermore, neither the positive, r(393) = -.057, p = .258, nor the negative,

r(393) = .033, p = .513, emotional granularity measurement did correlate significantly with the emotional granularity trait scale. Therefore, in line with the pre-registration, all analyses were run for each measurement individually. Due to space related constraints and since the difference between positive and negative emotion differentiation skills suggests that the per- formance-based emotional granularity measurement did not work psychometrically as in- tended, the following results and discussion section will only describe analyses done over the emotional granularity trait measurement. Further information on the second model, as well as analyses conducted over it can be found in Appendix D.

In short, the performance-based model produced similar conclusions to the trait model, indicating no statistically significant main effects of emotional appeal on CC and the three


types of pro-environmental behaviour. Likewise, no statistically significant interaction be- tween emotional appeal and emotional granularity was found.


A total of 658 participants was recruited online using convenience and snowballing sampling.

In line with the pre-registration, 126 participants were excluded due to missing consent, and another 52 people had to be excluded since they failed the attention check twice. After two more cases were excluded due to straightlining behaviour, as defined in the preregistration, the final sample over which the analyses were conducted (N = 393), consisted of 293 women and 93 men (74.6% female, 23.7% male, 1.8% other), had a wide range of age (Mdn = 28.00, M = 32.65, SD = 12.39, min. = 19, max. = 76), and was highly educated (82.2% had a univer- sity degree).Although respondents came from 46 different countries, a huge majority of them was German (52.9%). In terms of political leaning, measured on a 11-point scale (1 = Very left to 10 = Very right, with 5 = Neither left nor right as midpoint), the sample was slightly skewed towards the left of the political spectrum (Mdn = 3.00, M = 3.51, SD = 1.83).

A univariate analysis of variance indicated that participants in the rational (M = 34.25, SD = 12.74, n = 97), anxiety (M = 31.97, SD = 12.24, n = 117), guilt (M = 33.45, SD = 13.42, n = 97), and the disgust condition (M = 30.79, SD = 10.69, n = 82), F(3, 389) = 1.41, p = .240, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .01, were comparable in terms of mean age. Furthermore, a series of Chi-square tests showed that there was neither a significant gender difference between the three condi- tions, nor in terms of educational background (see Appendix E for a detailed overview). Also, a series of one-way ANOVAs and Bonferroni post-hoc comparisons revealed that partici- pants’ political leaning did not differ significantly between the rational appeal condition (M = 3.76, SD = 1.86) and the emotion induction conditions (𝑀𝑎𝑛𝑥𝑖𝑒𝑡𝑦 = 3.32, 𝑆𝐷𝑎𝑛𝑥𝑖𝑒𝑡𝑦 = 1.60, 𝑝𝑎𝑛𝑥𝑖𝑒𝑡𝑦 = .478; 𝑀𝑔𝑢𝑖𝑙𝑡 = 3.76, 𝑆𝐷𝑔𝑢𝑖𝑙𝑡 = 1.92, 𝑝𝑔𝑢𝑖𝑙𝑡 = 1.000, and 𝑀𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑔𝑢𝑠𝑡 = 3.17,


𝑆𝐷𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑔𝑢𝑠𝑡 = 1.92, 𝑝𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑔𝑢𝑠𝑡 = .182), F(3, 389) = 2.62, p = .051, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙 2 = .02). Thus, random assignment was successful, and no additional variables were included as covariates into the analysis.


Manipulation check

To confirm that participants had perceived the manipulated emotional appeals as in- tended, they were asked to indicate on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 = Not at all to 7 = Very much, to what extent they perceived each of the three emotions (anxiety, disgust, guilt) as be- ing transported in the Instagram post they saw in their respective condition. Therefore, a se- ries of one-way ANOVAs with the emotional appeal conditions (anxiety vs. guilt vs. disgust vs. rational condition) as independent variables and either anxiety, disgust, or guilt as depend- ent variable, was conducted.

Looking at perceived levels of anxiety, results revealed that people in the anxiety con- dition (M = 4.18, SD = 1.77) did perceive significantly more anxiety compared to people in the guilt (M = 3.40, SD = 1.74 , p = .005), disgust (M = 3.22, SD = 1.67, p = .001), or rational (M = 3.27, SD = 1.56, p = .001) condition, F(3,389) = 7.58, p < .001, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙 2 = .06, which demonstrated that the manipulation of the anxiety appeal was successful.

In terms of perceived disgust, the analysis showed a significant treatment effect F(3,389) = 6.57, p < .001, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .05. Bonferroni post-hoc comparisons indicated a suc- cessful manipulation of the disgust appeal, as they demonstrated that respondents who were exposed to the disgust-inducing appeal (M = 3.27, SD = 1.85) did perceive significantly more disgust compared to people exposed to the anxiety (M = 2.61, SD = 1.63, p = .040) or rational (M = 2.21, SD = 1.38, p < .001) appeal. Also, looking at the means, there is suggestive


evidence that the disgust condition led to more disgust compared to the guilt condition (M = 2.93, SD = 1.87, p = 1.000), even though this difference is not statistically significant.

For the guilt condition, there was again a significant treatment effect F(3,389) = 3.74, p = .011, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .03. Post-hoc comparisons demonstrated that the guilt condition (M = 3.58, SD = 2.07) led to significantly more perceived guilt compared to the disgust condition (M = 2.80, SD = 1.65, p = .024). For the two other conditions, group comparisons showed no statistically significant differences, but looking at the means, there is suggestive evidence that the guilt appeal also led to higher levels of guilt compared to the rational (M = 3.02, SD = 1.59, p = .177) or the anxiety (M = 3.43, SD = 1.74, p = 1.000) appeal, wherefore it can be as- sumed that the manipulation of guilt was also successful.

To judge the manipulation of the rational appeal condition, all three emotion items were compiled into a perception of emotions mean index (M = 3.17, SD = 1.32, α = .63), which allowed to investigate whether participants in the rational appeal condition experienced less affective arousal than people in the emotion-inducing conditions.

Results of the group comparisons showed once again a significant treatment effect F(3,389) = 3.83, p = .010, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .03. Post-hoc comparisons confirmed that participants in the rational appeal condition (M = 2.83, SD = 1.17) did perceive significantly less negative emotions overall compared to participants in the anxiety condition (M = 3.40, SD = 1.23, p = .009) and marginally significantly less emotions compared to the guilt condition (M = 3.30, SD = 1.51, p = .076). The group difference did not prove to be significant compared to the disgust condition (M = 3.10, SD = 1.31, p = 1.000), but looking at the means, it can be ar- gued that there is sufficient suggestive evidence to say that the manipulation of the conditions worked as intended and the emotional appeals evoked the intended emotions. All in all, the manipulations of the four experimental conditions have been found to be successful, which


confirmed that participants had perceived the manipulated emotional appeals and the rational appeal as intended.

Influence of emotional appeals on concern about climate change

First, it was investigated whether exposure to a climate change mitigation campaign framed in a disgust, anxiety, or guilt-inducing way, would lead to higher levels of CC compared to ex- posure to a campaign framed with a rational appeal. To do so, and to reveal a potential inter- action effect between emotional appeal and emotional granularity, a two-way ANOVA was conducted, with emotional appeal (anxiety vs. guilt vs. disgust vs. rational) and emotional granularity as a trait (low vs. high level of granularity) as independent variables, and CC as dependent variable.

Looking at the results, there was no statistically significant main effect of emotional appeal on CC, F(3, 385) = 0.96, p = .410, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .01. This means that neither the anxiety appeal (M = 6.48, SD = 0.76, p = 1.000), nor the guilt (M = 6.26, SD = 1.08, p = 1.000), or disgust (M = 6.34, SD = 0.93, p = 1.000) appeal led to significantly more CC compared to the rational appeal condition (M = 6.41, SD= 0.96). On the contrary, based on the means, there is suggestive evidence that climate change concern is even lower amongst the guilt and the dis- gust appeal condition than the rational one.

Besides, a small but significant main effect of emotional granularity on CC could be shown, F(1, 385) = 8.18, p = .004, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .02. Participants with a higher level of emotional granularity (M = 6.52, SD = 0.77) had significantly more CC than respondents with a lower level of emotional granularity (M = 6.25, SD = 1.05). Still, there was no significant interaction effect between the emotional appeals and emotional granularity F(3, 385) = 0.26, p = .856, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .002.


Therefore, H1a-c have to be rejected, which means that exposure to a climate change mitigation campaign framed in an emotion-inducing way, did not lead to higher levels of CC compared to exposure to a campaign framed with a rational appeal. Also, H5 has to be re- jected for CC as emotional granularity did neither strengthen, nor weaken the effect of emo- tional appeals on CC.

Influence of emotional appeals on support for climate change mitigation policies

Next, it was expected that emotional appeals in climate campaigns would lead to higher levels of SMP than rational appeals. Again, a two-way ANOVA was conducted to reveal both the main effect of emotional appeal on policy support, as well as a potential moderation of emo- tional granularity.

Looking at the results, there was no significant main effect of emotional appeal, F(3, 385) = 0.91, p = .437, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙 2 = .01, meaning that neither the anxiety appeal (M = 6.27, SD =1.00, p = 1.000), nor the guilt (M = 6.02, SD = 1.16, p = 1.000), or disgust (M = 6.15, SD = 0.91, p = 1.000) appeal led to significantly more SMP compared to the rational appeal condition (M = 6.19, SD = 1.04). Based on the means, there seems to be once again a ten- dency for the guilt and the disgust condition to produce an effect opposed of what was ex- pected, thus leading to less policy support rather than more. In addition to that, a significant main effect of emotional granularity, F(1, 385) = 13.57, p < .001, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .03, on SMP could be shown. Respondents with a higher level of emotional granularity (M = 6.36, SD = 0.88) indicated significantly higher levels of SMP, than less granular participants (M = 5.98, SD = 1.13). Nevertheless, no significant interaction effect between emotional appeal and emo- tional granularity was found, F(3, 385) = 0.28, p = .842, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .002.


Hence, H2a-c have to be rejected, meaning that exposure to a climate change mitiga- tion campaign framed in a disgust, anxiety, or guilt-inducing way, did not lead to higher lev- els of SMP than exposure to a campaign framed with a rational appeal. Moreover, no modera- tion effect of emotional granularity was found, thus rejecting H5 in regard of SMP.

Influence of emotional appeals on individual climate change mitigation behaviour

For the H3, it was tested whether exposure to climate campaigns framed in a disgust-inducing way would lead to less climate change mitigation behaviour than exposure to climate change mitigation campaigns framed in an anxiety- or guilt-inducing way. Like before, a two-way ANOVA was run, but this time with IMB as dependent variable.

The analysis revealed that there was once more no significant main effect of emotional appeal, F(3, 385) = 0.71, p = .549, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .01, indicating that neither the anxiety appeal (M = 6.08, SD = 0.66, p = 1.000), nor the guilt (M = 5.93, SD = 0.85, p = 1.000), or the ra- tional appeal condition (M = 6.01, SD = 1.02, p = 1.000) for that matter, led to significantly more IMB than the disgust appeal (M = 6.11, SD = 0.81). Looking at the absolute means re- vealed once again a tendency for the emotion induction conditions to cause an effect opposite to the originally expected one.

As it could be demonstrated in the previous tests, a small significant main effect of emotional granularity, F(1, 385) = 8.61, p = .004, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .02, was found. Highly granular people (M = 6.17, SD = 0.72) indicated significantly more willingness to engage in IMB, compared to participants with lower levels of emotional granularity (M = 5.91, SD = 0.92).

Nevertheless, there was no significant interaction effect between the emotional appeals and emotional granularity, F(3, 385) = 0.32, p = .811, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .002.


Therefore, H3a and H3b also have to be rejected, indicating that exposure to a climate change mitigation campaign framed in a disgust-inducing way does not lead to significantly less climate change mitigation behaviour than exposure to a climate change mitigation cam- paign framed in an anxiety- or guilt-inducing way. Just like before, emotional granularity did not interact with the effect of emotional appeal on IMB in a significant way, wherefore H5 must be rejected in regard of IMB as well.

Influence of emotional appeals on climate-related information seeking

The last assumption that was tested using a two-way ANOVA again, was whether exposure to a climate change mitigation campaign framed in a disgust-inducing way would lead to less CIS than exposure to a climate campaign framed in an anxiety- or guilt-inducing way.

This time, a significant main effect of emotional appeals on CIS was found, F(3, 385) = 2.80, p = .040, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .02. A Bonferroni post-hoc test revealed a marginally signifi- cant difference between exposure to the disgust (M = 3.74, SD = 1.81) and the anxiety

(M = 4.35, SD = 1.71, p = .064) appeal, which indicated that people in the disgust condition were less likely to engage in CIS compared to people in the anxiety condition. For the two other conditions, group comparisons were not statistically significant, but looking at the means, there is a tendency which suggests that the disgust appeal may also have led to less CIS compared to the guilt (M = 3.81, SD = 1.78, p = 1.000) or the rational (M = 3.90, SD = 1.64, p = 1.000) appeal condition.

For the main effect of emotional granularity, results indicated only a marginally signif- icant effect, F(1, 385) = 2.90, p = .089, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .01. Highly granular people (M = 4.13, SD = 1.76) showed a slightly higher willingness to search for further climate-related infor- mation compared to participants with lower levels of emotional granularity (M = 3.84,


SD = 1.72). Other than that, like before, no significant interaction effect between emotional appeal and emotional granularity was found, F(3, 385) = 0.14, p = .938, η𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙2 = .001.

Hence, H4a can be cautiously accepted, while H4b must be rejected. Participants who were exposed to a climate change mitigation campaign framed in a disgust-inducing way did report marginally significantly less willingness to engage in CIS compared to respondents who were exposed to a climate change mitigation campaign framed in an anxiety-inducing way. This difference did not prove statistically significant when looking at the guilt condition.

Again, emotional granularity did not affect this relationship in a significant way, rejecting H5 also for the last dependent variable under investigation.

Considering that emotional granularity, measured as a self-reported trait, did not affect any of the relationships previously investigated, it can be concluded that the effect of emo- tional appeals in climate change mitigation campaigns on CC, SMP, IMB, and CIS is neither stronger, nor weaker for people with higher levels of emotional granularity compared to lower granular people, thus requiring to reject both H5a and H5b entirely.

Exploratory analysis of emotional granularity

To investigate the significant main effects of emotional granularity on CC, SMP, IMB, and CIS a bit further, in addition to the pre-registered analyses, exploratory mediation analyses were run to see, if the total effect of emotional granularity on the dependent variables might be mediated by another third variable. Since running an exploratory linear regression with emotional granularity as independent, and political ideology as dependent variable yielded a statistically significant negative effect of emotional granularity on political ideology, β = - .215, p < .001, political ideology was included as a potential mediator into the model (see appendix F for a detailed description of the mediation path analyses). Results of the mediation analyses confirmed that political ideology did in fact mediate the effect of emotional


granularity on CC (ab = 0.072, 95%-CI[0.036, 0.114]), SMP (ab = 0.088, 95%-CI[0.047, 0.136]), and IMB (ab = 0.039, 95%-CI[0.015, 0.069]). Only for the relationship with CIS, no statistically significant mediation effect could be found (ab = 0.019, 95%-CI[-0.021, 0.064]), which is likely due to the already weak total effect. Hence, it can be said that the established main effect of emotional granularity on the dependent variables, is largely attributable to po- litical ideology. All in all, path analyses revealed that people who reported lower levels of granularity were leaning more towards the right of the political spectrum and had lower levels of CC, SMP, and IMB.


The goal of this study was to investigate emotional appeals in climate change mitigation cam- paigns, to see if they may enhance concern about climate change and various types of pro-en- vironmental behaviour. Thereby, the focus lay on negative emotional appeals, more precisely anxiety, guilt, and disgust. To account for interindividual differences between recipients, emo- tional granularity was included both as a trait and as a performance-based feature to investi- gate whether it would moderate these relationships.

Based on data collected in a pre-registered online experimental survey, questioning a total of 393 participants, it was found that unlike expected neither of the three emotion-induc- ing message appeals led to higher levels of concern about climate change (CC) compared to the rational condition, nor did they predict higher levels of support for climate change mitiga- tion policies (SMP). Also, in terms of promoting more actual mitigation behaviour (IMB), no statistically significant difference between the disgust appeal and the guilt or anxiety appeal were found. One expectation that held marginally true was that disgust did lead to less cli- mate-related information seeking (CIS) compared to the anxiety appeal condition. Moreover, introducing emotional granularity as a moderator into the model, did not produce a significant


interaction effect with emotional appeals, which suggests that high levels of emotional granu- larity did neither strengthen nor weaken the effect of emotional appeals on the dependent vari- ables.

These findings do not align with previous research on emotional appeals in climate change communication. Chu and Yang (2019) did find a clear positive effect of anxiety ap- peals in news messages on environmental concern and climate change mitigation action. Sim- ilarly, some studies have established guilt to be a contributing factor for increasing engage- ment in climate change mitigation behaviour (Elgaaied, 2012; Rees & Bamberg, 2014; Swim

& Bloodhart, 2015; Wang & Lin, 2018). Only the inhibiting effect of disgust on threat-related information seeking confirmed previous research findings (Clifford & Jerit, 2018). Generally, all the hypotheses tested the impact of emotional appeals on various aspects of an overall con- struct, which can be referred to as general green or pro-environmental behaviour. Therefore, the reasons why the anticipated outcomes did not prove to be true will be discussed together in the following section.

For one, pre-registering the present study prevented p-hacking (Simmons et al., 2011), i.e., a common tendency in social sciences to tailor plans of analyses in a way that they pro- duce statistically significant findings (Simmons & Nelson, 2021). Thus, pre-registered studies are more likely to find no statistically significant results, while at the same time preventing publication of false findings (ibid.) which in turn increases credibility of this study’s results (Nosek et al., 2018).

Another very likely explanation why most of the hypotheses were not confirmed as expected is an existing latent pro-environmental bias among the study participants, which stems from the convenience sampling. Across experimental groups, respondents on average indicated very high levels of CC, SMP, and IMB. This indicates the occurrence of a ceiling effect, which makes it virtually impossible to further elevate the scores of respondents by


introducing the independent variable (Cramer & Howitt, 2004). This means that possible ef- fects of the anxiety-, guilt-, and disgust-appeals on the dependent variables might have been overshadowed by the pre-dominant climate activism in the sample. Still, despite the ceiling effect, it remains surprising that among this very engaged sample there was suggestive evi- dence for emotional appeals to decrease rather than increase CC and policy support.

By relying on quotas and large panels, future studies should avoid this bias and in- clude more climate-critics or avoiders in their samples, which would allow to reveal effects of emotional appeals for respondents that have less pre-existing topic engagement and aware- ness. These studies could then investigate whether the effect of emotional appeals on pro-en- vironmental variables would remain a negative one, or if that held just true for the highly en- gaged group. At the same time, the last three years have seen tremendous increases of interest in climate change activism (Sisco et al., 2021), wherefore replication studies are needed to re- view whether established findings on emotional appeals in climate change communication still hold true in an increasingly aware public sphere, or if maybe the contradictory findings of the present study point towards an overall societal change, in which emotional appeals lose their impact in the light of already highly engaged citizens.

Next to that, when measuring an emotion-related construct through self-reports, there is always the risk of distorted data, since respondents can only indicate how they perceive themselves in terms of the variable under investigation, which – considering the ambiguous nature of emotions – often results in poor judgments (Robinson & Clore, 2002). Measuring the construct of emotional granularity in a survey-based experiment is very difficult. Just like this study, recent attempts to create valid performance-based measures for use in online sur- veys have failed (Ottenstein & Lischetzke, 2020), wherefore future research must try to come up with new ideas and scales that will allow to assess emotional granularity in an easy and valid way to help better understand its interaction with emotion experience and behaviour.


In addition to the pre-registered analyses, this study found that higher emotional gran- ularity led to significantly more CC, SMP, IMB, and, to a marginal extent, also CIS. As previ- ous studies showed that higher levels of emotional granularity drastically improved coping behaviour in face of stressors (Tugade et al., 2004), it might be that higher granular individu- als would engage in more pro-environmental activities in order to cope with the gloomy per- spective of climate change. Further exploratory analyses indicated that the effect of emotional granularity on the dependent variables was in fact mediated by political ideology. It was demonstrated that people who reported lower levels of granularity were leaning more towards the right of the political spectrum and were in turn less likely to report CC, SMP, IMB, and CIS. These findings path the way for future research on the relation of emotional granularity and political leaning, as well as its influence on behavioural changes to cope with large-scale stressful situations like climate global warming.

Although the findings of this pre-registered study did not confirm the expected hy- potheses, they offer some very valuable insight for communication professionals: if emotional appeals do not increase – or maybe even decrease – CC, SMP, IMB, and CIS for already in- vested audiences, people that are already interested in the issue should not be approached with emotion-inducing climate change communication campaigns anymore. They are already so involved in the issue that they cannot be activated more. Instead, it could prove worthwhile to design campaigns that specifically target highly granular people since granularity has been shown to (indirectly) increase all three types of pro-environmental behaviour and concern.

Traditionally, emotional granularity is a construct developed in psychology (Feldman Barrett et al., 2001) and has yet to gain prominence in communication science. Trying to start this process, this study was the first one to investigate emotional granularity in the context of political communication and political participation, thereby opening up an entire new area of research. For the future, there is much potential for more studies on emotional granularity and


scale improvement, because, be it a trait or a skill, emotional granularity has been shown by this study to influence pro-environmental activities and should thus be instrumentalized by communicators to gather more support. Everybody has to pitch in, if we want to:

Get prepared.

Use the time left.

Defeat the danger called climate change.


To see the pre-registration of the present study as issued on May 2nd 2021 via the AsPredicted website, please follow this private link: https://aspredicted.org/blind.php?x=pw86zk


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