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Article

Influence of Labeling and Incivility on Climate Change Communication  

Candice Howarth and Amelia Sharman

Labels play an important role in opinion formation, helping to actively construct perceptions and reality, and to place individuals into context with others. As a highly complex issue, climate change invites a range of different opinions and dialogues about its causes, impacts, and action required. Much work has been published in the academic literature aiming to categorize differences of opinion about climate change using labels. However, the debate about labels acts as a distraction to more fundamental and pressing issues of policy response. In addition, the undercurrent of incivility present in the climate change debate also contributes towards a hostile and unconstructive conflict. This is an evolving area of academic enquiry. Recent work has examined how the different labels of climate change opinions are constructed, used in practice, and portrayed differently in the public and policy spheres. The growing number of categorization systems used in the climate debate are also argued to have implications for the science-policy interface, creating a polarized debate involving many different actors and interfaces. Moving away from unhelpful use and construction of labels that lead to incivility would enable constructive and fruitful dialogue across this polarized debate. A way forward would be to explore further the role of underlying motivations and rationales as to why these different opinions about climate change come to exist in the first place. Focusing on potential overlaps in perceptions and rationales may encourage constructive discussion amongst actors previously engaged in purposefully antagonistic exchange on climate change.

Article

“Global Warming” versus “Climate Change” and the Influence of Labeling on Public Perceptions  

Jonathon P. Schuldt

Communicating about climate change involves more than choices about which content to convey and how to convey it. It also involves a choice about how to label the issue itself, given the various terms used to represent the issue in public discourse—including “global warming,” “climate change,” and “global environmental change,” among others. An emerging literature in climate change communication and survey methodology has begun to examine the influence of labeling on public perceptions, including the cognitive accessibility of climate-related knowledge, affective responses and related judgments (problem seriousness and personal concern), and certainty that the phenomenon exists. The present article reviews this emerging work, drawing on framing theory and related social-cognitive models of information processing to shed light on the possible mechanisms that underlie labeling effects. In doing so, the article highlights the value of distinguishing between labeling and framing effects in communication research and theory, and calls for additional research into the boundary conditions of these and other labeling effects in science communication.