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

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Brandi S. Morris
  • Polymeros Chrysochou
  • Jacob Dalgaard Christensen, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden
  • ,
  • Jacob L. Orquin, Reykjavik University
  • ,
  • Jorge Barraza, University of Southern California
  • ,
  • Paul J. Zak, Claremont Graduate University
  • ,
  • Panagiotis Mitkidis

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.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClimatic Change
Volume154
Issue1-2
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
ISSN0165-0009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

    Research areas

  • Affect, Climate change, Communication, Emotion, Story

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