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Fanning the flames or burning out? Testing competing hypotheses about repeated exposure to threatening climate change messages

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Abstract

Despite a wealth of scholarship on threat-based climate change messages, most research has examined the effects of a single exposure to them. This is a critical oversight because there are competing claims in public discourse about the benefits or drawbacks of continued exposure to threatening coverage of global warming. In two experiments, we examined whether psychological responses (e.g., emotions, issue salience) intensify or wane with repeated exposure to threatening messages about climate change multiple days in a row. Study 1 examined three consecutive daily exposures to threat-containing news stories about climate change, revealing that fear intensity did not dissipate upon repeated exposures to different threatening articles. Hope was not consistently affected by message exposure, and issue salience was uniformly high. Study 2 involved seven days of messaging exposure, manipulated high- vs. low-threat messaging, and included a wider range of outcomes. Small but significant effects emerged, such that fear and intentions exhibited curvilinear relationships with repeated exposure (increasing initially but plateauing around six exposures) whereas personal issue salience and personal efficacy increased linearly. These over-time trends were not different for high- vs. low-threat messages.

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Data availability

All data and syntax for the analyses presented in this manuscript are publicly available online through the Open Science Framework (Skurka 2023).

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Funding

This research was supported in part by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication.

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CS and JGM conceptualized the study. All three authors contributed to the study design. CS and YY performed data analyses, and all three authors contributed to data interpretation. CS led the writing of the paper, which was edited and approved by JGM and YY.

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Correspondence to Chris Skurka.

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This research was exempted from human subjects review by the Penn State University Institutional Review Board. All participants in the research provided informed consent.

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All authors approved the final manuscript before journal submission.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Skurka, C., Myrick, J.G. & Yang, Y. Fanning the flames or burning out? Testing competing hypotheses about repeated exposure to threatening climate change messages. Climatic Change 176, 52 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-023-03539-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-023-03539-8

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