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
Images are a key part of the climate change communication process. The diverse and interdisciplinary literature on how people engage with visual representations of climate change is reviewed. Images hold particular power for engaging people, as they hold three qualities that differ from other communication devices (such as words or text): they are analogical, they lack an explicit propositional syntax, and they are indexical. These qualities are explored in relation to climate change imagery. A number of visual tropes common to climate change communication (identifiable people; climate change impacts; energy, emissions and pollution; protest; scientific imagery) are examined and the evidence for each of these visual tropes in terms of how they engage particular audiences is reviewed. Two case studies, of polar bear imagery and the “hockey stick” graph image, critically examine iconic imagery associated with climate change, and how and why these types of images may (dis)engage audiences. Six best-practice guidelines for visual climate change communication are presented and three areas for further research in this nascent field are suggested.
Content analysis is one of the most frequently used methods in climate change communication research. Studies implementing content analysis investigate how climate change is presented in mass media or other communication content. Quantitative content analysis develops a standardized codebook to code content systematically, which then allows for statistical analysis. Qualitative analysis relies on interpretative methods and a closer reading of the material, often using hermeneutic approaches and taking linguistic features of the text more into account than quantitative analysis. While quantitative analysis—particularly if conducted automatically—can comprise larger samples, qualitative analysis usually entails smaller samples, as it is more detailed. Different types of material—whether online content, campaign material, or climate change imagery—bring about different challenges when studied through content analysis that need to be considered when drawing samples of the material for content analysis. To evaluate the quality of a content analysis measures for reliability and validity are used. Key themes in content analyses of climate change communication are the media’s attention to climate change and the different points of view on global warming as an issue being present in the media coverage. Challenges for content analysis as a method for assessing climate change communication arise from the lack of comparability of the various studies that exist. Multimodal approaches are developed to better adhere to both textual and visual content simultaneously in content analyses of climate change communication.