In the middle of a winter’s night in 2017, Frank Luntz’s cellphone alerted him to a nearby wildfire. The longtime analyst of public opinion opened his bedroom curtains and saw, less than a mile away, flames chewing the dark sky over Los Angeles. Luntz — who specializes in how the public reacts to words — saw scary evidence of a threat that he once tried to neutralize with language. In 2001, he’d written a memo of environmental talking points for Republican politicians and instructed them to scrub their vocabulary of “global warming,” because it had “catastrophic connotations,” and rely on another term: “climate change,” which suggested “a more controllable and less emotional challenge.” Last month, with a revised script, Luntz appeared before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. “I’m here before you to say that I was wrong in 2001,” Luntz said. Nearby was a colorful chart of vocabulary, developed since his polling in 2009 showed bipartisan support for climate legislation. He went on: “I’ve changed. And I will help you with messaging, if you wish to have it.”
Messages focused on the economic costs or negative impacts to individuals were more effective than motivational messaging in gaining support from the public and reducing the psychological distance of an environmental issue.
If we want everyone to participate in public life, we must design and build an inclusive public realm that is accessible to all. Public life can’t just be available to the abled, young, or healthy. Everyone navigates the built environment differently, with abilities changing across a person's lifespan. The sizeable global population of people with physical, auditory, or visual disabilities, autism or neurodevelopmental and/or intellectual disabilities, or neuro-cognitive disorders will face greater challenges if we don’t begin to more widely apply universal design principles.
To do so, we drew on a theoretical framework which highlights that defaults operate through three channels: first, defaults work because they reflect an implicit endorsement from the choice architect—your company’s HR department, your city’s policy office, your credit card company, your child’s school. Second, defaults work because staying with the defaulted choice is easier than switching away from it. Third, defaults work because they endow decision makers with an option, meaning they’re less likely to want to give it up, now that it’s theirs. As a result, we hypothesized that default designs that trigger more of these channels (also called the three Es: endorsement, ease, and endowment) would be more effective. In our analysis, we find partial support for this idea. That is, we find that studies that were designed to trigger endorsement (defaults that are seen as conveying what the choice architect thinks the decision maker should do) or endowment (defaults that are seen as reflecting the status quo) were more likely to be effective. In addition, we find that defaults in consumer domains tend to be more effective, and that defaults in pro-environmental domains (such as green energy defaults) tend to be less effective.
Lots of examples of behavioral science-driven interventions to drive environmentally friendly behavior
Good, very concrete communications with examples of exactly how much of a difference an individual can make to prevent people from feeling overwhelmed and like they can't make a difference on the issue
To provide practitioners with useful information about how to promote proenvironmental behavior (PEB), a meta-analysis was performed on 87 published reports containing 253 experimental treatments that measured an observed, not self-reported, behavioral outcome. Most studies combined multiple treatments, and this confounding precluded definitive conclusions about which individual treatments are most effective. Treatments that included cognitive dissonance, goal setting, social modeling, and prompts provided the overall largest effect sizes (Hedge’s g > 0.60).
The results lead to some useful messaging recommendations, such as active publics being more effectively moved to action through motivational frames, rather than diagnostic (i.e. problem-focused) or prognostic (i.e. solution-focused) frames.
A negatively framed message (i.e. which describes the behavior that should not be done) is more effective, at least in this context, than a positive framed message that describes the preferred behavior.
the power of the default
As music video director and VR entrepreneur Chris Milk has put it, VR is an “empathy machine.”
Anyone interested in influence should start by focusing on the environment of the individual they are trying to affect. Analyze that environment and find ways to make desirable actions easy and undesirable actions difficult. Remember that the human cognitive system aims to get the best possible outcome for the least possible energy cost.
Strategies for Enhancing Health in the Built Environment