Communicating Hope about Societal Issues: The Case of Climate Change



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Research indicates that news media coverage of climate change in the United States has emphasized the harms of warming more so than potential solutions (Hart & Feldman, 2014; O’Neill, Williams, Kurz, Wiersma, & Boykoff, 2015), or what is known as “the hope gap” (Upton, 2015). It is thus not surprising that many express a feeling of fatalism or helplessness in the face of climate change (Lorenzoni, Nicholson-Cole, & Whitmarsh, 2007). This dissertation develops a theory of hope as it pertains to social issues and applies it to climate change, based on appraisal theories of emotion (Lazarus, 1991b; Ortony, Clore, & Collins, 1988; Roseman, 1984), positing cognitive summative evaluations of a situation (appraisals) as precursors for emotion. I develop a more in-depth set of measures of the emotion of hope in response to climate change than previous researchers, based on how hope has been measured in contexts other than climate change. Two survey studies were employed to analyze hypotheses related to the antecedents, internal structure, and consequents of societal issue hope, including an embedded experiment in one survey employed to investigate hypotheses about message processing. Results support the validity of the measurement and conceptual approach, and provide support for some of the core theoretical claims, while challenging several other predictions and offering novel insights, such as identifying a sub-population of apparent stoic optimists who persist in feeling hopeful about climate change despite their intense skepticism that humanity will succeed in rising to the challenge.