Previous research has claimed that providing people with information about global warming may have a negative (and unanticipated) effect on their explicit attitudes towards climate change. One study found that more informed respondents felt less personally responsible for global warming and also showed less concern for the problem as a whole. This earlier study was, however, correlational in design and did not allow for firm conclusions regarding the direction of causality. For this reason, in our study we used an experimental approach — highly informative (and emotional) clips from An Inconvenient Truth were played to sets of participants and their mood states were measured as well as their explicit social attitudes/social cognitions on five critical scales (message acceptance/motivation to do something about climate change/empowerment/shifting responsibility for climate change/fatalism). Our study found that the clips did affect emotion, and in particular, they decreased the happiness and calmness levels of our participants, but they also felt more motivated to do something about climate change, more able to do something about climate change and, in addition, they were significantly less likely to think that they had no control over the whole climate change process. These were much more optimistic conclusions than the previous study had allowed, and they remind us of the power of strong informative and emotional messages on explicit attitude change and social cognition generally.
© 2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston