Evaluating Visual Frames Used in Climate Change Campaigns

Quickly and easily processed images are important vehicles for the dissemination of information. Even as images help an audience absorb and retain information, they can also influence the way that audience interprets the information – sometimes in unintended ways. In a recent study in The International Journal of Communication, NCEAS Fellow Stacy Rebich-Hespanha and co-author Ronald Rice examine the importance of evaluating visual frames in the context of designing a climate change campaign.

The study, which analyzed the 15 dominant visual frames in climate change news articles from 1974 to 2009, found that visual frames have the potential to both positively and negatively impact climate change-related knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. This necessitates climate campaign designers to think critically about their use of images.

“If we want people to come up with creative climate change solutions, we probably shouldn’t keep showing the same well-worn imagery. Instead, we should be using novel visuals to help inspire new ways of thinking.”

              -Stacy Rebich-Hespanha, NCEAS Fellow

When audiences are over-exposed to images, such as a polar bear or dirty smoke stacks, they can become desensitized to the issues they represent and may no longer associate any urgency with solving them. Rebich-Hespanha’s analysis suggests that over-reliance on these kind of visual frames can severely impact the effectiveness of a climate change campaign. As a result, the paper outlines a strategy for evaluating visual frames within the context of formative evaluation, which highlights the importance of assessing the impact of an image on the intended function of a communication campaign.


Dominant Visual Frames in Climate Change News Stories: Implications for Formative Evaluation in Climate Change Campaigns
Rebich-Hespanha, S., Rice, R.E.
International Journal of Communication, 2016. doi:1932–8036/20160005


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Posted on October 28, 2016