Policy Update

Monthly Messenger: Five Best Practices To Help Improve Public Engagement Based On Psychology



NCEL Point of Contact

Ava Gallo
Climate and Energy Program Manager


2015 study identified five best practices for improving public engagement around climate change based on psychological research. Below is a brief description of each best practice and how to incorporate it into your work on climate change. 

  1. The Human Brain Privileges Experience Over Analysis: Climate change is often communicated through statistics and other analytical terms. However, our brains better understand and prioritize action or experiences. Using experiences and stories combined with statistics helps to make climate change more concrete and relatable.
  2. People Are Social Beings Who Respond to Group Norms: Global problems often mean that one person’s ability to make a difference is perceived to be smaller. By highlighting scientific consensus and a large social movement around climate change, it can help to demonstrate what the group or public norm is and should be.
  3. Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Nature of Psychological Distance: The more physical distance and distance in time there is from a problem, the less humans feel the urgency to react. Focusing on local and regional impacts of climate change that are happening right now, such as storms and flooding, can help to enforce that the need for action is urgent now.
  4. Framing the Big Picture: Nobody Likes Losing (but Everyone Likes Gaining): The impacts of climate change are often framed negatively. For example, we will lose “x” amount of dollars by not acting. Instead, people respond better to messages that describe the positive gains made by acting on climate change, such as public health or the money to be saved.
  5. Playing the Long Game: Tapping the Potential of Human Motivation: Studies have shown that the long-term desire to care for the wellbeing of others and the environment is greater than our short-term desire for things such as money. Therefore, communications should include a long-term vision of environmental behaviors in addition to the short-term benefits of saving money.

The full study is available in the Perspectives on Psychological Science journal.