Affective imagery, or connotative meanings, play an important role in shaping public risk perceptions, policy support, and broader responses to climate change. These simple “top-of-mind” associations and their related affect help reveal how diverse audiences understand and interpret global warming. And as a relatively simple set of measures, they are easily incorporated into representative surveys, making it possible to identify, measure, and monitor how connotative meanings are distributed throughout a population and how they change over time. Affective image analysis can help identify distinct interpretive communities of like-minded individuals who share their own set of common meanings and interpretations. The images also provide a highly sensitive measure of changes in public discourse. As scientists, political elites, advocates, and the media change the frames, images, icons, and emotions they use to communicate climate change, they can influence the interpretations of the larger public. Likewise, as members of the public directly or vicariously experience specific events or learn more about climate risks, they construct their own connotative meanings, which can in turn influence larger currents of public discourse. This article traces the development of affective imagery analysis, reviews the studies that have implemented it, examines how affective images influence climate change risk perceptions and policy support, and charts several future directions of research.
Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith
Among the factors that influence news decisions relative to climate change, journalistic background, professional norms, and culture are particularly important. There is empirical evidence that conservative journalists and media outlets are less likely to support the scientific consensus on climate change and more likely to promote climate change contrarianism. Journalists with less expertise on climate change may produce less accurate coverage, investigative journalists may be more critical towards science, and journalists with a positive attitude towards the subject of climate change may make it more salient in the news. There is also indication that climate journalists abandon the norm of balance and increasingly employ strategies of novelty, dramatization, personalization, and localization. The climate journalists also tend to synchronize their coverage to the policies of their governments. Finally, journalists from the interpretive community around the IPCC or from science-friendly cultures are more likely to support the consensus on climate change, while journalists from collectivist cultures are more likely to endorse binding international agreements.