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Cross‐National Comparisons of Image Associations with “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” Among Laypeople in the United States of America and Great Britain1

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Climate change poses significant risks to societies worldwide, yet governmental responses differ greatly on either side of the North Atlantic. Risk perception studies have shown that citizens in the United States and Great Britain have similar risk perceptions of climate change: it is considered a distant threat, of limited personal importance. Engaging the public on this issue is thus challenging. Affect, the positive or negative evaluation of an object, idea, or mental image, has been shown to powerfully influence individual processing of information and decision‐making. This paper explores the affective images underlying public risk perceptions of climate change through comparative findings from national surveys in the USA and in Great Britain. American and British respondents predominantly referred to generic manifestations and impacts of climate change or to a different environmental problem (ozone depletion). The terms “global warming” and “climate change”, and their associated images, evoked negative affective responses from most respondents. Personally relevant impacts, causes, and solutions to climate change, were rarely mentioned, indicating that climate change is psychologically distant for most individuals in both nations. The role of affective images in risk judgements and individual decision‐making deserves greater study.
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Keywords: Affect; Great Britain; USA; climate change; global warming; images; laypeople; perceptions

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Zuckerman Institute for Connective Environmental Research, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, UK 2: Decision Research, 1201 Oak Street, Eugene, Oregon 97401, USA 3: Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, Wales, UK 4: School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Wales, UK

Publication date: 01 April 2006

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