How climate change narratives help to engage audiences: Experimental evidence

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Helena Bilandzic @Helena_Bilandzic & Anja Kalch

:classical_building: Affiliation: University of Augsburg, Germany

Title: How climate change narratives help to engage audiences: Experimental evidence

Abstract (long version below): Empirical ecocriticism is an emerging field that combines insights from the environmental humanities with methods from environmental communication and the empirical study of literature in order to study the impact of environmental narratives in literature, film, television, video games, and other media on attitudes, emotions, perceptions, and behavior (Małecki, 2019; Schneider-Mayerson, Weik von Mossner, et al., 2020). While still relatively new, the field has already generated significant interest in academia and beyond, with special journal issues and edited collections devoted to it (Schneider-Mayerson et al., 2023), as well as media coverage by the likes of Newsweek or Psychology Today. This interest is mainly due to the exciting output generated by empirical ecocriticism on the potential of stories to move the public on today’s most pressing environmental issues such as animal welfare, species extinction, and climate change (Brereton & Gómez, 2020; Iossifidis & Garforth, 2022; Małecki et al., 2016, 2019; Malecki et al., 2021; Myren-Svelstad, 2023; Sabherwal & Shreedhar, 2022; Schneider-Mayerson, 2018; Schneider-Mayerson, Gustafson, et al., 2020). The symposium focuses on the latter topic, providing new experimental data from studies conducted with Indian, German, and US participants, on the impact of climate narratives, both fictional and factual, on personal norms, emotions, and behavioral intentions.


:newspaper: Long abstract

The increasing availability of climate change information does not ensure that citizens actually use it and confront themselves with the issue (Stoknes, 2014). “Climate fatigue” (Kerr, 2009) is discussed as an explanation for disengagement with the issue, particularly in relation to emotionally challenging news reports. Moreover, individual differences exist that determine a person’s willingness to inform themselves and engage with the issue of climate change. In this study, we investigate how climate fiction is able to engage people despite tendencies of climate fatigue. We conducted a two-part experiment with a cross-sectional sample (n=304) that first tests the conditions for selecting narratives of climate change (fictional and factual). Second, the experiment investigates the effect of a fictional story dealing with climate change (novel “History of water” by M. Lunde, 2018) on the awareness of consequences, personal norms, and behavioral intentions, and consider narrative engagement (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009) as a mediating factor. In addition, we test whether the coping style (the way in which people deal with problems, Carver et al., 1989) changes these relationships. Results reveal that narrative engagement is key for any story to be effective and that coping style indeed makes a difference for selective exposure as well as effects.
We discuss the results against the backdrop of narrative persuasion theories and the potential of stories to engage audiences with climate change.


Busselle, R. W., & Bilandzic, H. (2009). Measuring narrative engagement. Media Psychology, 12, 321 -347.
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989, Feb). Assessing coping strategies - a theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(2), 267-283. APA PsycNet
Kerr, R. A. (2009, Nov 13). Amid worrisome signs of warming, ‘climate fatigue’ sets in. Science, 326(5955), 926-928.
Stoknes, P. E. (2014). Rethinking climate communications and the “psychological climate paradox”. . Energy Research & Social Science 1, 161–170.

Hi Helena,

Thank you for the very interesting presentation!

I have a question about the role of emotion in the norm activation model that you use in the study. I haven’t personally worked with this model before, nor am I that familiar with the model, so I apologize if this question may appear somewhat trivial.

My question is very simple: Does the norm activation model account for emotional and affective states? I am asking, because the wording that you highlight for the different states (awareness, ascription of responsibility, personal norm, intentional states) would, at first glance, seem to me to refer more to cognitive processes than emotional states. Of course, I know that this dualism (cognitive-affective) is one that is fraught and much more entangled than what common knowledge seems to dictate. Yet for this very reason, it seems to me that your theoretical background (narrative persuasion with its emphasis on ‘intensive emotional engagements’) appears to foreground the emotional experience of readers/viewers in ways that the norm activation model might not?