- Thu, February 17 2011
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
Attention environmentalists: Gloom and doom predictions of the end of the earth are not motivating. They will not inspire change. Please stop scaring people out of action.
A new study by Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer that was published this month in Psychological Science shows the dire, apocalyptic visions painted by many in the environmental field are undermining belief in global warming and discouraging action.
Read it and pull PSAs like the one pictured above.
Dire messages warning of the severity of global warming and its presumed dangers can backfire, paradoxically increasing skepticism about global warming by contradicting individuals’ deeply held beliefs that the world is fundamentally just. In addition, we found evidence that this dire messaging led to reduced intentions among participants to reduce their carbon footprint – an effect driven by their increased global warming skepticism. Our results imply that because dire messaging regarding global warming is at odds with the strongly established cognition that the world is fair and stable, people may dismiss the factual content of messages that emphasize global warming’s dire consequences. But if the same messages are delivered coupled with a potential solution, it allows the information to be communicated without creating substantial threat to these individuals’ deeply held beliefs.
Go negative with caution. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: You must give people the feeling that they have the power to help, not the feeling they are helpless or that your issue is intractable. If you scare with scale, you’ll lose. If you empower with feasible steps, you’ll make social change.