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Fear-Based Climate Appeals Can Be Counterproductive

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Children and students participate in a #FridaysForFuture climate protest on March 15th, 2019, in Berlin, Germany.

Calls to take action against climate change are growing increasingly urgent. Drawing on recent research, advocates often point to the enormous costs of inaction, and how the perils will only mount in the years ahead.

Scaring people is a time-honored way of trying to convince people to change their minds. But new research suggests that, when it comes to climate change, that strategy might be backfiring.

In two experiments, a team of researchers found that people were more likely to get involved in the effort to save the environment if they read a pitch that emphasized the health benefits that would result, rather than one that frightened them with visions of likely losses.

The researchers report that, for some participants, negative campaigns inadvertently served as reminders of their own health issues, or those of family members. This turned their focus inward, prompting an attitude of “I’d like to help, but I don’t have the time or energy.”

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