Communicating for change—make it real, and make it easy
By Dr Angela Dean
For many of us in science communication, ‘facts’ are necessary ingredients of the content we share. But, research reminds us that the ‘information deficit’ model is too simplistic, and raising awareness is not the main route to behaviour change. So what are the alternatives?
We surveyed people attending marine citizen science events to see whether attendance fosters longer-term stewardship. About half of attendees reported intentions to adopt a new sustainability behaviour. But what aspects of their experience motivated these intentions?
One of the main drivers was negative emotions. People who agreed with the statement ‘I felt sad or angry about something I saw’ had stronger intentions to adopt new sustainability behaviours.
Psychology tells us that emotions allow us to appraise situations and prepare for action. People generally like to avoid loss. So, negative emotions may be necessary ingredients for motivating new actions.
We also found that the influence of learning varied with the type of learning we measured: ‘Procedural learning’ (how to do something) was associated with stronger intentions to adopt new behaviours. However, ‘factual learning’ was associated with lower behavioural intentions.
We think these findings provide an important reminder to not rely on factual learning to motivate change. Instead, we need to ‘make it real and make it easy’.
How do we do this? This can feel challenging for practitioners who want to provide enjoyable experiences for audiences.
Firstly, we don’t need to avoid issues about environment impact and loss. Showing people real impacts can be very powerful.
But, we can’t stop there—we also need to show people what they can do. Without the opportunity for action, negative emotions can lead to disempowerment and disengagement. Hands-on initiatives, like citizen science, provide a way to highlight environmental problems and motivate action.
For more detail of Angela’s research, see her paper.
Dr Angela Dean, University of Queensland’s Centre of Excellence in Environmental Decisions