The goals of this paper were twofold: (a) Investigating the socio-psychological factors that predict the climate change risk perceptions of mainstream blog audiences by replicating the CCRPM; and (b) improving the explanatory power of the model by adding trust and knowledge about the scientific consensus as new predictor variables.
5.1. Evaluation of CCRPM+
Whereas the CCRPM predicted 68% of the variance in climate change risk perceptions for the UK [22
] and the Australian public [23
], the CCRPM+ explained 84% of the variance for international audiences in the climate mainstream blogosphere. The relative contribution of predictors to climate change risk perceptions in the CCRPM are largely congruent with our findings for the CCRPM+, however there were some remarkable differences with the British and Australian general public.
First of all, gender and income were the only significant socio-demographic predictors in the final model. Thus, when audience members are female and have a lower income, they especially tend to view climate change as a greater risk. Van der Linden [22
] found that political views were a significant and consistent predictor of risk perception, which is congruent with our findings though in our model, ideology lost its significance after controlling for socio-cultural influences. Overall, the relative contribution of socio-demographic factors to risk perceptions was nearly zero, which is consistent with other research. e.g., 3% in [23
] and the general expectation that the influence of socio-demographic variables is diminished when introducing theory-based psychological dimensions [21
Second, knowledge about impacts, responses, and the scientific consensus were all significant and positive predictor variables. Therefore, adding the latter as new predictor variable is a useful advancement of the CCRPM. Thus, when audience members have knowledge about the impacts, responses, and the scientific consensus on climate change, they tend to view climate change as a higher risk. Surprisingly, knowledge about the human causes of climate change is significantly and negatively related to risk perceptions. Yet, we caution against interpreting this finding for two main reasons; (a) human causation did not reveal a significant zero-order correlation with risk perception likely due to (b) the very low reliability of the scale in this study. Overall, it appears that the relative importance of cognitive factors to explain risk perceptions was more substantial for mainstream blogosphere audience members than for the British and Australian general public.
Third, experiential processes were the strongest contributor to the total variance in risk perceptions. Affect was the greatest predictor of climate change risk perceptions overall and personal experiences with extreme weather events was also a significant and positive predictor. These findings are largely congruent with the findings of Van der Linden [22
] and Xie et al. [23
]. While the importance of affect in shaping risk perceptions was diminished in earlier research [57
], more recent research largely endorses the idea that emotions and affect play a crucial role in forming climate change risk perceptions [22
]. Therefore, since once again the importance of emotions and affect in understanding risk perceptions of climate change is underscored, the need for future research focusing on how emotions can—and should—be addressed in climate change communications is paramount.
Fourth, the relative importance of socio-cultural influences on risk perceptions as a whole is minimal compared to the contribution of other dimensions. This finding goes somewhat against current academic scholarship, which stresses the importance of recognizing the role of social norms and human values in how climate change risk perceptions are formed, e.g., [37
], but may speak to the unique composition of factors that predict the risk perceptions of blog audiences. Although the relative importance was minimal, biospheric values and descriptive norms were both significantly and positively related to climate change risk perceptions. Thus, audience members that hold biospheric values and perceive that others are taking action to help reduce the risk of climate change tend to view climate change as a greater risk. In contrast to Van der Linden [22
] and Xie et al. [23
], prescriptive norms was not a significant predictor of risk perceptions. Thus, although perceived consensus seems to be important in shaping perceptions of blog visitors [1
], the extent to which audience members feel directly socially pressured to view climate change as a risk that requires action does not affect their risk perceptions. This finding suggests that audiences in the climate mainstream blogosphere are perhaps more inclined to view themselves as independent thinkers and therefore defer to other heuristics, such as trust in science.
In fact, the new dimension of trust is a useful addition to the model, as it accounted for a quarter of the total explained variance in risk perceptions. Trust in scientists was a positive and significant predictor of risk perceptions. Importantly and perhaps unsurprisingly, the predictive power of trust in climate mainstream blogs and distrust in climate skeptical blogs was even greater. Thus, this finding adds to the notion that the degree to which individuals trust certain media as a source of information about climate change is critical for understanding how climate change risk perceptions are formed [43
Overall, these results largely replicated earlier studies using the CCRPM. However, it is important to note that some of our findings deviated from previous research, like the minimal relative importance of socio-cultural influences. We suggest that these counterintuitive results show that the assigned weight of predictor variables influencing climate change risk perceptions may be dependent on each unique target population. In this case, since climate change blog audiences are highly engaged and climate skepticism is more prevalent in the blogosphere [3
], one can speculate about whether mainstream audience members view themselves as more independent thinkers with a greater interest in climate science than members of the general public. We recommend to replicate the CCRPM+ in the context of climate skeptical blogs and in other (non-English) contexts and cultures.
5.2. Implications for Practice and Future Research
The current research has important implications for risk communication via blogs. Van der Linden [22
] recommends to craft risk messages that appeal to affective and experiential processing mechanisms and socio-cultural influences, besides providing people with increased knowledge about the causes, impacts, and responses about climate change. We largely endorse this recommendation, but we have a few suggestions for crafting risk messages that are intended for climate change blog audiences.
First of all, we suggest to continue educating audiences about the causes, impacts, and responses of climate change, including the scientific consensus given that, besides the present study, a large literature highlights the benefits of doing so [52
]. Second, we suggest that although the perception of social consensus on blogs is important [1
], crafting messages in which audience members feel directly socially pressured to view climate change as a risk may not be effective or even elicit psychological reactance.
For example, previous research showed that some climate change bloggers are already sensitive to selecting and composing blog content that aims to evoke certain emotions, in addition to a focus on objective and scientific content [11
]. However, scientist bloggers might feel restrained to craft content that appeals to audience members’ emotions and prefer to stick to content that feeds knowledge to the audiences. However, according to Engdahl and Lidskog [67
] (p. 714), this strategy is not effective for building trust. Instead, they discuss that trust is created when individuals feel “emotionally involved, take part, have a say, and in some sense are able to recognize themselves in the recipient of their trust”.
Therefore, we encourage bloggers to write blogs that appeal to audiences’ emotions, given that both audiences’ affect and trust in climate change blogs is an influential predictor of their climate change risk perceptions.
The current research also has important implications for risk communication in general. Our research provides evidence for the fact that each target audience has its own unique characteristics. Therefore, we suggest that risk communicators aim to understand the socio-psychological factors that shape their audience’s risk perceptions so that a risk message can be crafted that is tailored to the characteristics of this specific audience. Moreover, we recommend to test communications to evaluate their effectiveness [68
Of course, this research has limitations that need to be considered. First and foremost, the survey was not published on any climate skeptic blogs. Second, the sample was self-selected. Thus, we recognize that the sample is not representative of the entire climate change blog audience population, but instead representative of the climate mainstream blogosphere. However, the sample did include audience members with low risk perceptions. Therefore, the composition of the sample allowed us to evaluate what socio-psychological factors explain the variance in climate change risk perceptions of blog audiences. Third, the data are self-reported, which makes the research prone to social desirability and memory biases. However, if respondents coordinated their responses to insert noise into the data [3
], such results would likely have surfaced in the analysis. Fourth, the reliability scores of the natural and human cause–knowledge scales were low. Therefore, we recommend to restructure the items that were used in the present research and develop scales that are reliable in different contexts. Lastly, the data are cross-sectional, which means that the associations reported here cannot be used to infer causality.