Exploring how the tone of written climate change communication influences coping strategies


  • Ashley Park Bergen County Technical High School
  • Ashwani Vasishth Mentor, Ramapo College




Climate Change Communication, Coping Strategies, Climate Anxiety, Climate Change Education


The purpose of this study is to explore the influence that various tones of written climate change communication have on coping strategies. 126 New Jersey college students responded to a quantitative questionnaire that had a passage on climate change written in one of the following tones: dreadful, cautiously optimistic, or hopeful. Students then answered 9 Likert scale questions that assessed their coping strategies in response to climate change: problem-focused, meaning-focused, and/or emotion-focused coping. Previous research has found that problem-focused and meaning-focused coping is positively correlated to pro-environmental behavior, but little research exists on what tones of climate change communication evoke problem-focused and meaning-focused coping. In this study, no statistical difference was found with respect to evoking problem-focused coping across the three tones. However, there were statistical differences in evoking meaning-focused and emotion-focused coping. Namely, those who responded to a cautiously optimistic or hopeful tone were more likely to resort to meaning-focused coping, and those who read a dreadful tone were more likely to apply emotion-focused coping. The findings of this study suggest using cautiously optimistic and hopeful tones in climate change communication in education to encourage environmental engagement and mitigate climate change related mental health concerns.


Download data is not yet available.

References or Bibliography

American Psychological Association. (2020). Majority of US adults believe climate change is most important issue today. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/02/climate-change.

American Psychological Association. (2018). Stress in America. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2018/stress-gen-z.pdf

Azeiteiro, U. M., Azul, A. M., Filho, L. W., Manolas, E., & McGhie, H. (2018). Handbook of Climate Change Communication: Vol. 1 Theory of Climate Change Communication. Springer International Publishing.

Baron, R., Logan, H., Lilly, J., Inman, M., & Brennan, M. (1994). Negative Emotion and Message Processing. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 30(2), 181–201. https://doi.org/10.1006/jesp.1994.1009

Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(2), 267–283. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.56.2.267

Chapman, D. A., Lickel, B., & Markowitz, E. M. (2017). Reassessing emotion in climate change communication. Nature Climate Change, 7(12), 850–852. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-017-0021-9

Cho, R., (2019, July 31). Six Reasons to Be Hopeful About Fighting Climate Change. State of the Planet. https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2019/02/13/hope-fighting-climate-change/.

Clarke, A. T. (2006). Coping with Interpersonal Stress and Psychosocial Health Among Children and Adolescents: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(1), 11–24. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-005-9001-x

Clayton, S., & Karazsia, B. T. (2020). Development and validation of a measure of climate change anxiety. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 69, 101434. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2020.101434

Corner, A., Roberts, O., Chiari, S., Völler, S., Mayrhuber, E. S., Mandl, S., & Monson, K. (2015). How do young people engage with climate change? The role of knowledge, values, message framing, and trusted communicators. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 6(5), 523–534. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.353

Damasio, A. R. (2000). Descartes' error: emotion, reason, and the human brain. Harper/Collins.

Fredrickson B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The American psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://doi.org/10.1037//0003-066x.56.3.218

Kaplan, E. (2019, November 27). Most American teens are frightened by climate change, poll finds, and about 1 in 4 are taking action. Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/most-american-teens-are-frightened-by-climate-change-poll-finds-and-about-1-in-4-are-taking-action/2019/09/15/1936da1c-d639-11e9-9610-fb56c5522e1c_story.html

Kelly, M. (2020, November 4). NJ suburbs map Democrats' paths forward in 2020 and beyond: Kelly. North Jersey Media Group. https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/columnists/mike-kelly/2020/11/04/nj-suburbs-democrats-map-course-national-dominance/6129405002/.

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer.

Morganstein, J. C., & Ursano, R. J. (2020, January 2). Ecological Disasters and Mental Health: Causes, Consequences, and Interventions. Frontiers. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00001.

Ojala, M. (2012). Hope and climate change: the importance of hope for environmental engagement among young people. Environmental Education Research, 18(5), 625–642. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2011.637157

Ojala, M., & Bengtsson, H. (2018). Young People’s Coping Strategies Concerning Climate Change: Relations to Perceived Communication With Parents and Friends and Pro Environmental Behavior. Environment and Behavior, 51(8), 907–935. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916518763894

Parry, E. (2020). The Greatest Threat To Global Security: Climate Change Is Not Merely An Environmental Problem. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/greatest-threat-global-security-climate-change-not-merely-environmental-problem.

Roberts, D. (2018, December 28). The case for "conditional optimism" on climate change. Vox. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/12/28/18156094/conditional-optimism-climate-change.

Thomas, E. F., McGarty, C., & Mavor, K. I. (2009). Transforming “Apathy Into Movement”:The Role of Prosocial Emotions in Motivating Action for Social Change. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13(4), 310–333. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868309343290

Thearle, L., & Weinreich-Haste, H. (1986). Ways of Dealing with the Nuclear Threat: Coping and Defense Among British Adolescents. International Journal of Mental Health, 15(1-3), 126–142. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207411.1986.11449024

van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., & Leach, C. W. (2010). Experimental evidence for a dual pathway model analysis of coping with the climate crisis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(4), 339–346. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.02.006

Wallace-Wells, D. (2020). The uninhabitable earth: life after warming. Tim Duggan Books.

Williams, D. (2020, June 4). New Jersey is the first state to add climate change to its K-12 education standards. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/04/us/new-jersey-climate-schools-scn-trnd/index.html.



How to Cite

Park, A., & Vasishth, A. (2021). Exploring how the tone of written climate change communication influences coping strategies . Journal of Student Research, 10(3). https://doi.org/10.47611/jsrhs.v10i3.2141



AP Capstone™ Research