Behavioural scientists in the field of climate change communication call for a better understanding of how information provided to the public should be presented in order to be effective. The aim of this research is to connect insights from framing theory with message processing theory and regulatory focus theory to see whether public communication can effectively affect pro-environmental behavioural change. The framing types that are of interest in the current study are outcome framing and point-of-reference framing. An online, scenario-based experiment was conducted with 170 Dutch homeowners using a 2 × 2 between-group design. The stimulus material consisted of a communal newsletter advocating pro-environmental behaviours (both short-term and long-term investments in insulation and investment in an alternative heating system) in which both the outcome (gain vs. loss) and the point of reference (self vs. environment) were manipulated. The results indicate that the effect of outcome framing on pro-environmental behavioural intentions depends on the point of reference employed in a message as well as on a recipient’s regulatory focus. Homeowners’ pro-environmental intentions are stronger when the message is presented in a loss frame with a reference to the self than when the message is presented in a loss frame with a reference to the environment. Furthermore, pro-environmental intentions are stronger when the message is presented to homeowners in a gain frame with a promotion focus compared to a prevention focus. No direct effects were found for either outcome framing or point-of-reference framing.
- Outcome-framing effects
- Point of reference
- Regulatory focus
- Pro-environmental communication