Climate Change, Psychology, and Communication: Step Two - Frame Your Message

Part 2 of the Climate Change, Psychology, and Communication Series for effective communication Step 1 is to know your audience. Step 2 is to frame your message accordingly. "Framing is the setting of an issue within an appropriate context to achieve a desired interpretation or perspective" (CRED, 2010). Psychologists like to coin many terms to describe things you probably already understand, but weren't fully aware of their usefulness or their official names. You could easily swap out the word "framing" with "contextualizing" or "re-wording" or even "putting things in a way that is easier to convey the message." Whatever you choose to call framing, it's useful, especially for a politically charged message as climate change action is.

Three Frames That a Climate Change communicator should know
: Promotion vs. Prevention Frame, The Local Frame, The Now vs. Future Frame. Do not forget - a frame is just a way of saying "re-wording your words delicately to convey the message."

The Promotion vs. Prevention Frame. When talking about climate change it is more effective to talk in terms of losses, instead of gains. The example given is that in order to better promote energy efficiency in people's homes, talk to them as though the measures they take will prevent them from losing money (prevention thinking) as opposed to saving money (promotion thinking). People as a whole put more value in negative events than positive ones, as Quirk (2010) suggested we all have a Complaining Gene (Quirk actually uses a more derogatory term that begins with a "B" and ends with an "itching" - gene). This tendency to complain was genetically evolved to create problem solvers. When things are going good there, is no problem solving needed, and things like technology and other improvements are not developed. So saying "save the trees" may not be as effective as "prevent forest losses."

The Local Frame.
Frame things closer to home. For climate change conversations in rich nations, instead of talking about the effects of climate change on foreign populations, in third worlds, in developing nations, it is more effective to bring up the problems that climate change bring about locally. How will it affect my local food supply, my local business, or my local schools?

The Now vs. Future Frame.
Frame climate change consequences in the now moment. Get at people's everyday lives, their jobs, their national security, their health. This one should be a little easier to understand if you relate it to people's health. Most people are about instant gratification and ignore long term consequence. Many would rather have the burger and fries now, despite the increased chances of heart attack later. Now, now, NOW!

The author's suggest combining the Promotion vs. Prevention Frame with the Now vs. Future Frame will bring about best results. Climate change is a problem now, prevent the loss of your health and money by investing in climate change solutions today. I'm sure you could do it, better.

Reference: Shome, D. & Marx, S. (2010) "The Psychology of Climate Change Communication" Columbia University.

Photo Credit: Roland