Climatic Change

, Volume 130, Issue 3, pp 453–464 | Cite as

Should the moral core of climate issues be emphasized or downplayed in public discourse? Three ways to successfully manage the double-edged sword of moral communication

  • Susanne TäuberEmail author
  • Martijn van Zomeren
  • Maja Kutlaca


The main objective of this paper is to identify a serious problem for communicators regarding the framing of climate issues in public discourse, namely that moralizing such an issue can motivate individuals while at the same time defensively lead them to avoid solving the problem. We review recent social-psychological research on moral motivation, concluding that moralization is a double-edged sword: It provides people with a powerful motivation to act for a cause they believe in, yet people often cope with moral threats in defensive ways. Fortunately, recent research also hints at possible solutions of this dilemma of communication. One solution involves the non-moral framing of persuasive messages as a means to avoid defensive responses. Another solution revolves around promoting coping mechanisms that do not reflect defensiveness, such as the promotion of value-driven group identities and the development of moral convictions that increase a sense of agency. Finally, we suggest ways to developing change-oriented moral convictions about climate issues. Our findings are of substantial relevance for scientists and policy makers who aim at stimulating behavioural change (e.g., governments’ commitment to the reduction of GHG emissions).


Moral Communication Moral Motivation Moral Intuition Social Convention Moral Conviction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susanne Täuber
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martijn van Zomeren
    • 2
  • Maja Kutlaca
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Human Resource Management & Organizational BehaviourUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Social PsychologyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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