Climate change in the media: collective guilt and behavioral effects of news reports and environmental identity

Amanda Koehn, The College of Wooster


The threats climate change presents are highly intertwined with social, political, and media constructions, which collectively restrict implementation of large scale solutions. As the American public is strongly influenced by, often biased media representations of climate change, the present study examined whether article conditions (advantage, disadvantage, and news control), moderated by environmental identity, predicted collective guilt and behavioral engagement. People with high environmental identity were also expected to experience more collective guilt and behavioral effects than those with low environmental identity. Participants (n=295) were recruited to read one of the three articles (randomly distributed) and then indicate their environmental identity, collective guilt as an American, and willingness to engage in environmental behaviors. They also completed measures on their immediate positive and negative affect after reading the articles. People who had high environmental identity generally experienced more collective guilt, F(1, 289)= 106.44, p<.001, and were more willing to engage in sustainable behaviors, F(1, 289)= 129.02, p<.001, than those with low environmental identity. The interaction between identity and article condition demonstrated that people with low environmental identity in the advantage and disadvantage conditions experienced less collective guilt than those with high environmental identity, in the same conditions, F(2, 289)= 3.31, p<.05 (people in the control condition did not differ significantly, regardless of identity). The results and analysis of this study have implications for research on climate change in the media and environmental identity's relationship to collective guilt.