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Identifying Climate Messages That Work

We conduct scientific lab and social media experiments (e.g., Facebook) to identify the messages that best engage key target audiences. Different audiences tend to trust different messengers. The way climate change is framed (e.g., as a scientific, health, business, political, environmental, national security, moral, or religious issue) can also be more or less convincing to different audiences. Different audiences respond to different formats, e.g., text, video, audio, online, face to face, etc. The Yale Program conducts research to identify the combination of messengers, message frames and formats that best engage key audiences, such as each of Global Warming’s Six Americas, Republicans, evangelicals, Latinos, youth, etc. in specific states and localities. Outcome measures include shifts in climate change and clean energy beliefs, attitudes, policy support, and/or behavior. We also construct, test, and implement new tools for rapid, inexpensive, and large-scale message testing to greatly accelerate the development and deployment of effective communication campaigns.

For example, with our colleagues at George Mason University, we conducted several experiments on behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to identify the best way to convey the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is happening. We found that we were able to shift public perceptions of the degree of consensus up to 19 percentage points, which had positive cascading effects on respondents’ own beliefs that human-caused global warming is happening and is a serious threat. Particularly interesting is that this positive effect was strongest among conservative Republicans.

AAAS used these results to design a national campaign to help persuade Americans and opinion leaders that the scientific debate about the reality of human-caused climate change is over.