Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Anger as a Means for Elaboration: An Analysis of Local Government Carbon Neutral Pledges

Meaghan McKasy's picture
McKasy, Meaghan
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Scholarly papers

In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intent to leave the landmark Paris Agreement, an international accord that vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address mitigation, adaptation, and financial issues of climate change (Shear, 2017). Citizen backlash around the country bolstered American politicians at various levels of government to still adopt the non-binding agreement (Mindock, 2017). Many cities around the country are intensifying their efforts to reduce and offset emissions through carbon neutral pledges.

American perceptions about climate change are increasingly heated and polarized along partisan lines (Hart & Nisbet, 2012; McCright & Dunlap, 2011). Studies are increasingly looking to incivility in online public discussions (Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014) and find it can influence risks perceptions of scientific issues (Anderson, Brossard, Scheufele, Xenos, & Ladwig, 2014). Thus far, there is little research into the effects of hostile discourse on self-reports of anger and individual information processing. Studies show that angry individuals may use heuristics, such as biases or perceived risk, that can lead to impulsive decisions they consider to be correct (e.g., Angie et al., 2011; Ferrer et al., 2016; Isbell, Rovenpor, & Lair, 2016; Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985). However, anger can also motivate individuals to focus on the offense committed against them (Frijda, 1986) and process information with more cognitive elaboration (Nabi, 2002).

Here, I examine the impact of the discrete emotion, anger, on systematic processing of information about carbon neutral pledges using an experiment embedded in an online survey (N = 376). Students at a state university read an online Op-ed article about local government carbon neutral pledges containing reader comments that were either angry or neutral. To elucidate the effects of the experiment on how information is processed, I perform a moderation mediation analysis. I hypothesize that those respondents exposed to angry comments will report significantly higher felt anger following the manipulation. Additionally, I hypothesize that angry comments will lead to an increase in focused systematic processing (both directly and indirectly through produced anger). Furthermore, I question if political ideology manipulation will significantly moderate felt anger and systematic processing.

The results indicate that individuals exposed to articles with angry reader comments processed information more systematically. Furthermore, there was an indirect effect through a mediating variable, elicited anger. Political ideology moderated the effect for individuals who self-reported as conservative. This study lends credence to the importance of anger as a motivation force for systematic information processing and questions the role of political ideology in this process. These findings contribute to advancing studies in discrete emotions and the complex effects of anger, as well as present information on a little analyzed environmental issue.