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date: 24 February 2018

“Global Warming” versus “Climate Change” and the Influence of Labeling on Public Perceptions

Summary and Keywords

Communicating about climate change involves more than choices about which content to convey and how to convey it. It also involves a choice about how to label the issue itself, given the various terms used to represent the issue in public discourse—including “global warming,” “climate change,” and “global environmental change,” among others. An emerging literature in climate change communication and survey methodology has begun to examine the influence of labeling on public perceptions, including the cognitive accessibility of climate-related knowledge, affective responses and related judgments (problem seriousness and personal concern), and certainty that the phenomenon exists. The present article reviews this emerging work, drawing on framing theory and related social-cognitive models of information processing to shed light on the possible mechanisms that underlie labeling effects. In doing so, the article highlights the value of distinguishing between labeling and framing effects in communication research and theory, and calls for additional research into the boundary conditions of these and other labeling effects in science communication.

Keywords: global warming, climate change, framing effects, labeling effects, public opinion

The past decade has witnessed a growing recognition among climate communication scholars of the power of labeling to shape the public’s perception of climate-related issues. These efforts are founded on the observation that a variety of labels pervade everyday messaging and public discourse about anthropogenic climate change—most notably “global warming” and “climate change”—but also related terms1 including “the greenhouse effect,” “global environmental change,” and “climate disruption,” to name a few. Although these labels carry distinct meanings in scientific terminology—for instance, global warming refers more narrowly to increases in global surface temperatures, whereas climate change refers to a broader category of climatic effects linked to this warming trend (see Jacobs, Jokimäki, Rice, Green, & Winkler, 2016)—they are often employed with less precision or even conflated in common practice, prompting recent efforts to examine whether these labels, in and of themselves, may differentially impact public perceptions of the issue in meaningful ways (e.g., Akerlof & Maibach, 2011; Jaskulsky & Besel, 2013; Schuldt, Konrath, & Schwarz, 2011; Schuldt, Roh, & Schwarz, 2015; Villar & Krosnick, 2011; Whitmarsh, 2008).

From a theory of meaning perspective, “global warming” and “climate change” may carry a similar presumptive or implied meaning (Levinson, 2000) to audiences accustomed to their frequent and often interchangeable usage (e.g., in national opinion polling and news coverage; see Chapman, 2015). In many conversational contexts, message recipients may operate on the shared understanding that either label functions as a shorthand symbol representing the same general concept: that of human-induced changes to global climatic patterns resulting primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels. Thus, norms governing the conversational context may foster little difference in lay perceptions across these labels. However, from a cognitive accessibility perspective on judgment and decision-making (e.g., Higgins & Bargh, 1987; Srull & Wyer, 1980), these labels may be expected to activate distinct concepts that are more or less closely associated with previously encoded structures in memory, thereby influencing how audiences understand and process climate-related information.

The present article reviews the nascent but growing literature on labeling effects in climate change communication, which suggests that common labels are indeed capable of shaping public perceptions of climate-related issues in meaningful ways. It begins with a consideration of labeling as a practical tool of language in everyday communication, including some of its advantages and disadvantages for meaning-making. It then considers the historical emergence of different labels in the scientific literature on climate change as well as broad patterns of usage among the general public, gleaned from aggregate Web search data. Next, relevant perspectives on framing theory (e.g., Chong & Druckman, 2007a, 2007b; Entman, 1993; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981) are introduced, which are used as a basis for interpreting the growing number of studies examining labeling effects in the climate domain. Finally, the article highlights the value of distinguishing the labeling effects discussed here from framing effects as they are more commonly conceptualized in contemporary communication theory, with the goal of encouraging enhanced conceptual clarity and future research into the mechanisms underlying labeling effects.

The Nature of Labeling

Labels by their nature are symbols in written and spoken language that serve to aid in the communication and comprehension of concepts. Semiotics, which involves the study of symbols and signs (Barley, 1983), holds that labels aid communicators by affording expressions or “signifiers” that represent packages of associated cognitions in an efficient manner. These expressions are inherently social and socially constructed; as Ashforth and Humphrey (1997) note, “Using a signifier as a shorthand means of describing an object requires the audience to reconstruct the speaker’s intent by invoking their own knowledge. Signifiers cue the particular set of cognitions that should be used to make sense of the object” (p. 45; emphasis added). In this sense, the use of labels in communication reflects a cooperative enterprise that enjoins speakers and audiences to establish shared meaning regarding what the label represents; moreover, the exchange likely involves both active and passive processes on the part of both parties. For example, speakers may deliberatively or reflexively employ a given label over an alternative label; the audience may consciously search for implied meanings or, instead, rely on automatically cued cognitive knowledge to guide their interpretations.

Although the utility of labels for conveying often-complex concepts rapidly and efficiently may be self-evident, labels are prone to conceptual ambiguity that can hinder understanding and undermine communication goals. For example, the label “environmental organization” is commonly applied to groups of professionals who work collectively on issues at the interface of nature and society. The label is informative and efficient; if I tell you that “Kara is with an ‘environmental organization,’” it allows you to quickly generate inferences, with reasonable accuracy, based on past experiences and stored knowledge regarding that category and its label—for example, regarding the likely focus of her efforts (e.g., water quality vs. interior design), the goals of the work (e.g., resource conservation vs. profit maximization), and so on.

Like the stereotypes we hold about different social groups, however, labels can also fail us spectacularly, as they bring to mind a category exemplar from which any given individual or environmental organization may deviate in significant ways. Like the librarian who spends his or her weekends kickboxing and not engrossed in Dickens (see Tversky & Kahneman, 1974, for a related example), Kara’s environmental organization might look very different than one’s readily accessible prototype (e.g., Greenpeace); it may lean more corporate than activist, more local than national. In fact, Kara may be a professional architect who simply volunteers for an environmental organization that has no paid staff at all.

In practice, such ambiguity in meaning is often mitigated by the conversational context in which a label is employed. According to philosopher of language Paul Grice (1975), a number of tacit rules (“maxims”) govern the conversational context that help the audience discern a speaker’s intentions, beyond the literal meaning of an utterance—namely, the maxims of quantity, quality, relation, and manner. These culturally shared norms guide audiences to assume that a speaker’s contribution to the ongoing conversation is sufficiently informative (quantity), accurate (quality), relevant (relation), and as unambiguous as possible (manner). Operating under these shared rules and assumptions, you would likely draw different inferences about Kara’s “environmental organization” if you and I were professors discussing the extracurricular activities of our undergraduate students, as compared to old graduate school friends updating one another about former classmates. To assume that Kara is the executive director of a major environmental organization within a conversation about the campus activities of undergraduates would violate more than one of these maxims.

Broadly, many everyday communication contexts can be understood as a conversation in which Gricean maxims can shed light on how audiences make meaning of the utterances they encounter, the survey context being a notable and especially germane example (Schwarz, 1999). The literature on cognitive aspects of survey methods (CASM) (see Schwarz, 2007; Strack, Schwarz, & Wänke, 1991; Tourangeau, 1984) conceptualizes the survey questioning and answering processes as a series of discrete cognitive tasks that respondents perform when completing traditional survey questionnaires, including diverse operations that involve attention, comprehension, memory recall and retrieval, and the mapping of concepts onto response options. Importantly, the surrounding context can powerfully shape the answering process at each stage, as seen when respondents look to seemingly mundane questionnaire design features to infer the researcher’s probable intent. For example, when asked to generate causal attributions for an actor’s violent behavior, respondents point more often to internal factors (dispositional characteristics of the actor) than to external forces (situational circumstances) when the survey letterhead refers to the sponsoring research organization as a “personality” versus “social” institute, respectively (Norenzayan & Schwarz, 1999). Further demonstrating how mundane cues shape presumptions of the researcher’s interest, respondents asked to report how often they felt angry during the “last week” assume the researcher is interested in relatively minor annoyances; when instead asked about feelings of anger during the “last year,” respondents assume that the researcher is interested in major blowouts—on the basis of the referenced time period alone (Winkielman, Knäuper, & Schwarz, 1998).

That survey respondents draw inferences about the researcher’s interest from contextual cues carries implications for how labeling may influence public perceptions of various scientific issues, including climate change. A number of contemporary scientific issues feature more than one label that can be taken as referring to a singular issue, as seen in the discourse surrounding shale gas development (also known as fracking or hydraulic fracturing) (e.g., Clarke et al., 2015; Evensen, Jacquet, Clarke, & Stedman, 2014) and agricultural biotechnology (also known as genetic modification or genetically modified organisms) (e.g., Barrows, Sexton, & Zilberman, 2014). In constructing survey questionnaires, researchers must choose how to label the focal issue at hand—a choice that is often guided by a goal of ensuring maximum clarity and ease-of-comprehension among respondents (Converse & Presser, 1986). The result is that researchers interested in opinions about broad topics like climate change or energy development may employ more colloquial and widely understood labels in survey questions (e.g., global warming, fracking) (e.g., Boudet et al., 2014; Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Smith, 2011), under the assumption that respondents will correctly infer the researcher’s interest in the broader issue. This may well be a safe assumption, provided the survey context offers sufficient cues suggesting that the broader category is, indeed, the researcher’s primary interest (e.g., multiple questions about energy development or climate impacts). Moreover, there are often pragmatic reasons for employing a specific label in survey research that have to do with maintaining consistent wording format for the purpose of comparing survey data over time. For example, a number of surveys of climate change attitudes may employ questions that are worded in terms of “global warming” because the latter term was relatively more common in public discourse a decade or two ago, when a number of ongoing national opinion polls on the topic were begun (see Nisbet & Myers, 2007, for a relevant review). At the same time, however, there are reasons to expect that respondents may react quite differently depending on the specific label employed—an expectation rooted in the distinct connotations that labels evoke as well as their interplay with prevailing context cues.

Before turning to a detailed discussion of research examining how labeling influences public perceptions, the emergence of common climate change labels in scientific and public discourse is first considered.

Labeling Climate Change

A variety of related but scientifically distinct terms have been used within the academic literature and broader public discourse on climate change for decades. Wallace Broecker (1975) is frequently credited with first using the term “global warming” in an article appearing in the journal Science entitled, “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?,” in which he suggested that a global cooling trend would shortly give way to a period of rising global temperatures, resulting from the heat-trapping actions of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the atmosphere (i.e., the “greenhouse effect”). The more encompassing term “climate change”—which refers to broad-scale alterations to climatic patterns that result, in part, from the greenhouse effect and global warming—was in use even earlier, as evidenced by a letter to the editor in Science entitled “Climate Change” (Gast, 1971). It appears that “greenhouse effect” predated both these terms in the scientific lexicon; it was in frequent use around 1940 (e.g., Humphreys, 1937; Wildt, 1940) and can be traced to much earlier (e.g., National Academy of Science, 1900); for a period, it was routinely referenced by astronomers in the context of understanding the temperature dynamics of other planets (e.g., Sagan, 1969).

Although other labels have been advanced to highlight different aspects of the issue (e.g., “global climate change,” “climate disruption”; Hansen & Lacis, 1990; Melillo et al., 1993; Stralberg et al., 2009), recent data-analytic technologies suggest that the three aforementioned terms have and continue to dominate the discussion. The Ngram Viewer from Google Books® allows for searching the corpus of English language publications back to the year 1500. A search for the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” and “greenhouse effect” reveals a number of useful insights (Figure 1). First, climate change and global warming appeared relatively infrequently in English language texts until around 1985, when their usage notably increased. Second, beginning in the early 1990s, climate change emerged as the more frequent term, although references to global warming have continued to increase during the intervening years while references to the greenhouse effect have declined. For the year 2008 (the most recent year for which data are publicly available), the term climate change appeared approximately twice as often as global warming, in contrast to the early 1990s and before, when their usage frequencies were roughly equivalent.

“Global Warming” versus “Climate Change” and the Influence of Labeling on Public PerceptionsClick to view larger

Figure 1. Frequencies of the terms climate change, global warming, and greenhouse effect (depicted as a percentage of total words) from Google Ngram (data plotted at 5-year intervals from 1975 to 2005).

Additional technologies allow for insight into the level of interest in these different terms among the general public. Notably, Google Trends® indexes the relative aggregate search volume of terms entered into the Google search engine, overall (worldwide) as well as by location. Compared to the English corpora data returned from Ngram, relative search volume data reveal a different pattern (Figure 2) (see Leiserowitz et al., 2014, for a similar analysis).

“Global Warming” versus “Climate Change” and the Influence of Labeling on Public PerceptionsClick to view larger

Figure 2. Relative search volume for the terms climate change, global warming, and greenhouse effect from Google Trends (data plotted for the first full week of every month, 2004 through mid-2015).

First, global warming stands out as the most frequently searched term for much of the time period during which Google has collected data, surpassing climate change for the 10-year period from 2004 to 2014. This relative difference was especially pronounced during the period from 2004 to around 2009—with a notable peak in early 2007, when the issue received widespread public attention, coinciding with the high-profile release of the film An Inconvenient Truth and the subsequent awarding of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their efforts to raise public awareness about the issue (see Brulle, Carmichael, & Jenkins, 2012, regarding the role of climate-related media coverage on public during this period).Taken together, these emerging data-analytic tools suggest that although both “global warming” and “climate change” feature prominently in discourse, climate change has emerged as the dominant label in the published literature over the past two decades, whereas global warming may be losing the advantage that it once held among Web searchers. The rising prominence of the climate change label has received much attention from both the academic community, and—in the United States, in particular—political commentators, who have advanced differing explanations for this terminological shift. There are some, for instance, who see the shift as a deliberate attempt at misdirection by liberal scientists and environmental advocates, the argument being that reframing the issue in terms of the more general and abstract concept of “change” helps obscure (an alleged) lack of evidence for planetary warming. However, recent research finds little support for this claim (Jacobs et al., 2016), highlighting that the climate change label has been in use for many decades (see above) and, moreover, that it was a prominent conservative political strategist, Frank Luntz, who famously implored his U.S. Republican colleagues to speak in terms of climate change rather than global warming, to avoid the more urgent and presumably more motivating connotations of the latter (see Burkeman, 2003; Boykoff, 2011).

The rise of the climate change label is probably explained in large part by its greater scientific appropriateness and nuance (i.e., capturing the many diverse impacts of human activities, beyond rising temperatures, that influence climate patterns and biological systems at varying scales). Indeed, the term’s greater scientific accuracy is reflected in the names of many, if not all, of the leading scientific organizations and governmental initiatives on the topic, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the associated United Nations Conference on Climate Change (e.g., the recent COP21, held at Paris in December, 2015). Nevertheless, it is important to consider the role of partisan politics in the usage and effects of these labels, as suggested by Luntz’s advice. In the U.S. context, in particular, climate change has emerged as a highly politicized issue during the last two decades, with survey data showing a reliable partisan gap between Democrats and liberals, who typically express stronger belief in and concern about the issue, and Republicans and conservatives, who typically express more skeptical beliefs and less concern (see Dunlap & McCright, 2008; Hamilton, 2011; Hoffman, 2011; McCright & Dunlap, 2011). Amid this ongoing politicization, partisans may differentially employ these labels for strategic purposes, guided by known or presumed labeling effects on audiences. From a social scientific perspective, these processes can be understood through theories of framing and the large literature on framing effects in communication and judgment and decision-making, more broadly—as discussed next.

Framing Theory

In seeking to understand the use of different labels in climate discourse and their influence of public perceptions, the interdisciplinary literature on framing theory provides a useful scaffold. One frequently cited definition by Entman (1993) holds that frames function to “select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (p. 52). Like labels, frames infuse everyday communication and are essential to meaning-making, orienting audiences toward relevant considerations and useful interpretations when processing messages. Unlike labels, however, frames are not simply words (Lakoff, 2010); instead, they are conceived as “interpretive packages” (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989) comprised of related cognitive schemas that are evoked by words and other messaging features. Once activated in memory, these schemas exert greater influence on information processing than they otherwise would and dominate other relevant frames not rendered accessible.

For instance, because of their experiences with society and culture, the public often has a number of internalized mental schemas that can constitute different frames that are relevant (or “applicable”; see Higgins, 1996) to the same event. In cases where these different frames encourage divergent interpretations of an event, evoking any given frame over another through the use of select message features can powerfully shape public perceptions. An illustrative example comes from Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley (1997) (see also Chong & Druckman, 2007a; Druckman, 2001), who found that research participants came to hold more tolerant judgments toward a rally of the Ku Klux Klan when news coverage evoked a “free speech” frame as compared to a “public safety” or “public order” frame. Presumably, the average citizen has a reasonably well-developed network of cognitive associations related to each of these highly valued ideals, and as such, communicators could expect more tolerant attitudes toward KKK speeches and rallies to prevail under the “free speech” frame. This common type of framing, in which communicators highlight a subset of relevant considerations over others that could have been highlighted, has been termed emphasis framing to distinguish it from equivalency framing (Chong & Druckman, 2007b)—the latter type involving logically equivalent information that nevertheless elicits different judgments or stated preferences (e.g., credit card “surcharges” vs. cash “discounts” at retailers; framing risk scenarios in terms of gain vs. loss; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981).

Although words—and by extension, labels—do not constitute frames per se, in many contexts they may function similarly to emphasis frames. Whereas prototypical emphasis framing by political and media elites may involve the use of multiple allusions and arguments in messaging (i.e., frames in communication) to instantiate particular audience mindsets (or frames in thought; Chong & Druckman, 2007a), the substitution of common labels that are tacitly understood as referring to the same general issue may be sufficient to activate distinct sets of cognitive schemas. Take, for example, the well-known “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels that feature prominently in the abortion debate, each of which appears designed to resonate with deeply held cultural values (Tankard, 2001). Moreover, recent efforts by political elites to reframe the debate about “gun control” in terms of “gun safety” (Greene, 2013) further hint at the power of labels to activate cognitive schemas that are more or less compatible with prevailing arguments about the regulation of firearms.

Amid growing attention to the role of framing in environmental discourse (Lakoff, 2010; Myers, Nisbet, Maibach, & Leiserowitz, 2012; Nisbet, 2009), the labels “global warming” and “climate change” may themselves be sufficient to activate distinct sets of schemas that lead audiences to process climate-related information in different ways, a possibility supported by a growing number of empirical studies over the past decade. As discussed below, this work points to a wide range of labeling effects, including effects on the kinds of thoughts and images that come to mind when the public is exposed to a given label, to affective reactions and related judgments (e.g., perceived problem seriousness), to beliefs regarding the very existence of the phenomenon.

The Influence of Labeling on Public Perceptions

Cognitive Content Accessibility

Amid a larger societal discussion regarding the appropriateness and accuracy of different labels for communicating about global climate change, climate change communication scholars have begun to explore the influence of labeling on public perceptions. One of the earliest empirical studies on “global warming” versus “climate change” labeling involved a comparison of similar national-level opinion surveys conducted in two different national contexts, the United States and Great Britain (with 673 and 1,547 respondents, respectively) (Lorenzoni, Leiserowitz, De Franca Doria, Poortinga, & Pidgeon, 2006). These researchers examined respondents’ cognitive imagery associations with global warming and climate change by asking, “What is the first thought or image that comes to your mind when you think of ‘global warming’?”2 (in the U.S. sample) and “Which three things, if any, come to your mind when you hear the phrase ‘climate change’?” (in the British sample). Although the results revealed a number of common associations across samples, they also revealed some notable differences that hint at the different ways these labels, in and of themselves, might elicit divergent responses among the general public. For instance, large differences were observed in the percentage of respondents indicating associations with “melting ice” and “heat”: compared to the British respondents (who were asked exclusively about climate change), U.S. respondents (who were asked exclusively about global warming) offered these associations at rates of more than 3:1. By comparison, stronger associations with “weather” were observed among the British sample, at a rate exceeding 2:1 (see Lorenzoni et al., 2006).

While the study by Lorenzoni and colleagues (2006) is suggestive of labeling effects on public perceptions, the confounding of terminology with national context prevents causal inferences; meanwhile, a number of experimental studies have emerged that afford a more direct comparison of the public’s responses to these terms (see Table 1 for relevant experimental studies). Whitmarsh (2008) employed a split-ballot survey experiment involving 589 residents in the south of England who were randomly assigned to report their associations with “global warming” or “climate change,” depending on experimental condition. Results complemented and extended the earlier, non-experimental findings from Lorenzoni and colleagues (2006). Specifically, Whitmarsh (2008) observed more heat-related associations in the global warming condition (e.g., references to increasing temperatures and melting icebergs), as well as more mentions of greenhouse gas–related activities (e.g., references to the greenhouse effect and heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide). For its part, climate change evoked stronger connotations of natural (vs. human) causation as well as of broader impacts on climate and weather systems, beyond rising temperatures (e.g., regarding rainfall and drought patterns).

Table 1. Experimental Studies Examining Effects of “Global Warming” (GW) versus “Climate Change” (CC) Labeling on Public Perceptions



Labels examined

Key measure(s)

Key finding(s)

Baumer et al. (2015)

Amazon Mechanical Turk (n = 303)

Global warming; climate change

Personal existence belief

Reduced existence belief in GW (vs. CC) among conservatives; “frame reflection” intervention eliminated effect

Jaskulsky & Besel (2013)

University undergraduates (U.S.) (n = 225)

Global warming; climate change; climate crisis; climactic disruption

Problem seriousness and perceived threat

Climatic disruption evoked the most seriousness and fear; climate crisis evoked the least; GW and CC fell in between

Leiserowitz et al. (2014)

U.S. adults (n = 1,657)

Global warming; climate change

Cognitive and affective associations (various)

GW (vs. CC) evoked more negative affect, ice-melt and alarm imagery, worry, and perceived threat

Schuldt, Konrath, & Schwarz (2011)

U.S. adults (n = 2,267)

Global warming; climate change

Personal existence belief

Reduced existence belief in GW (vs. CC) among Republicans

Schuldt & Roh (2014a)

Amazon Mechanical Turk (n = 400)

Global warming; climate change

Cognitive associations (related to heat and causality)

GW (vs. CC) evoked stronger associations with rising temperatures and melting ice for conservatives only; no effects on causality associations

Schuldt & Roh (2014b)

University undergraduates (U.S.) (n = 253)

Global warming; climate change

Personal existence belief

Reduced belief in GW (vs. CC) following reminders of cold weather, among those low in environmental concern

Schuldt, Roh, & Schwarz (2015)

U.S. adults (n = 2,041)

Global warming; climate change

Personal existence belief; perceived scientific consensus; policy support

Reduced existence belief in GW (vs. CC) for Republicans and conservatives; reduced belief in scientific consensus for GW (vs. CC) overall; no main effect of label on policy support

Villar & Krosnick (2011)

U.S. adults (n = 3,325) (Study 1); European adults (n = 30,170) (Study 2)

Global warming; climate change; global climate change

Problem seriousness

GW (vs. CC) evoked marginally lower perceived seriousness for Republicans; vice versa for Democrats in the U.S. sample; no difference observed in the European sample

Whitmarsh (2008)

U.K. adults (n = 589)

Global warming; climate change

Cognitive associations (various)

GW (vs. CC) evoked stronger associations related to heat and human causes; CC (vs. GW) evoked stronger associations related to a range of climatic effects and natural causes

Thus, these experimental findings would suggest that residents’ top-of-mind associations with these labels map onto, to some degree, key differences in their technical and scientific meanings. However, whether these patterns reflect a nuanced understanding of these terms among the public as compared to mere associations with component words (e.g., “warming” and “climate”) is unclear—a point discussed in more detail later.

Informed by these results, Schuldt and Roh (2014a) recruited a sample of 400 U.S.-based participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete a Web experiment featuring closed-ended measures of the accessibility of key climate-related concepts, suggested by the above studies. The instructions read: “When you think about the term ‘global warming’ [‘climate change’], to what extent does each of the following come to mind?” (alternative wording in brackets). Participants rated the strength of six concept associations (namely, rising temperatures, melting polar ice, pollution, natural variation, immediate impacts, and delayed impacts) on a 7-point Likert-type scale (1 = Not at all to 7 = Very much). Consistent with previous observations, global warming was more strongly associated with heat-related concepts (i.e., rising temperatures and melting polar ice) than was climate change; however, this was particularly true of political conservatives, who reported substantially lower heat-related associations in the climate change condition, specifically (liberals showed no labeling effect). In contrast to prior observations by Whitmarsh (2008), labeling did not appear to influence the accessibility of concepts related to human versus natural causality, nor did it affect associations with the perceived timing of impacts. Thus, although Schuldt and Roh (2014a) and Whitmarsh (2008) present some consistent as well as inconsistent findings, the different national contexts and concept elicitation methods used in the studies may have played a role.

In more recent, unpublished work, Leiserowitz and colleagues (2014) conducted a split-ballot experimental survey involving over 1,600 U.S. adults who were asked the following: “When you think of global warming [climate change], what is the first word or phrase that comes to mind?” (alternative wording in brackets). Analysis of these top-of-mind associations revealed a number of significant differences. For instance, compared to “climate change,” “global warming” evoked imagery related to melting ice, flooding, and ozone depletion in a greater proportion of the sample; for its part, “climate change” was more likely to evoke imagery related to weather, echoing similar findings from Whitmarsh (2008) in her English sample. Complementing the observations of Schuldt & Roh (2014a), a breakdown of these findings by political groups revealed different patterns of cognitive associations with these labels across liberals and conservatives. For example, political conservatives were particularly likely to associate melting ice with global warming and weather with climate change.

Affective Responses (and Related Judgments)

In addition to differences in the cognitive content they render accessible, climate communication scholars have begun to explore citizens’ affective responses to these labels, including the positivity and negativity of the feelings they elicit as well as influences on affect-related judgments (e.g., perceived urgency, problem seriousness, and personal concern). In a sample of 3,325 U.S. adults, Villar and Krosnick (2011) examined the effects of labeling the phenomenon as “global warming,” “climate change,” and “global climate change” on perceptions of problem seriousness. Challenging prevailing wisdom regarding the catastrophic connotations of global warming, results revealed similar seriousness ratings for all terms in the overall U.S. sample (a similar finding emerged in a European sample asked about “global warming” or “climate change”). Interestingly, however, the effect of label varied by political identification, with Republicans rating global warming as somewhat (marginally) less serious than climate change, whereas Democrats showed the opposite pattern. Thus, as the authors note, their findings appear to challenge Frank Luntz’s infamous advice to his Republican colleagues—in fact, the labels performed as Luntz might have expected among Democrats, a group unlikely to fully embrace the climate-related policies of the George W. Bush administration. Moreover, the authors highlight the role of labeling in the apparent partisan divide long observed in U.S. opinion polling (Dunlap & McCright, 2008; Krosnick, Holbrook, & Visser, 2000; McCright, Dunlap, & Xiao, 2013, as the difference in the percentage of Democrats and Republicans perceiving the issue as “extremely serious” was substantially reduced when respondents were asked about climate change as compared to global warming (22% vs. 35%), suggesting that the latter may be the more politically charged and polarizing label.

Regarding basic affective responses, Leiserowitz and colleagues (2014) asked their U.S. respondents to report on the subjective valence of the top-of-mind associations that they held for either global warming or climate change, depending on experimental condition. Results showed a main effect of label on affective ratings, such that associations evoked by global warming were rated as more negative than those evoked by climate change in the overall sample. Again, however, a breakdown of these results by political groups revealed different affective patterns across partisans—for instance, whereas liberals and moderates were more likely to report negative feelings related to global warming as compared to climate change, this pattern was not observed among conservatives. Moreover, the heightened negative feelings attached to global warming were echoed in the study’s additional findings that global warming evoked more imagery related to “alarm,” elicited more worry (particularly among liberals and moderates), and was generally judged as more of a threat (to both oneself and one’s family), as compared to climate change.

Interestingly, while this heightened perception of threat from global warming was reiterated across many subgroups, the largest differences were observed among Hispanics in the sample, who were substantially more likely to anticipate a “moderate” or “great” amount of harm to themselves or their families from global warming as compared to climate change (e.g., 64% vs. 33% for the family harm question). Such findings emphasize the value of examining subgroups differences beyond those related to politics in climate change communication, given the heightened vulnerability of racial and ethnic minority groups to climate impacts and corresponding sensitivity to these disproportionate effects on one’s community (Mohai, 2008; Pearson, Schuldt, & Romero-Canyas, 2016; Schuldt & Pearson, 2016; Taylor, 2014).

In addition to “global warming” and “climate change,” Jaskulsky and Besel (2013) explored how the labels “climate crisis” and “climatic disruption” influenced affective responses among a sample of 225 undergraduates from a Western U.S. university. Results suggested that these different labels influenced participants’ agreement with specific affect-related belief statements—e.g., “Rising temperatures pose a serious threat to my way of life” and “This issue frightens me” (1 = Strongly disagree to 5 = Strongly agree)—such that, in general, climatic disruption elicited the strongest feelings related to threat and fear, whereas climate crisis elicited the least (global warming and climate change generally performed more moderately, with little difference among those labels). Although smaller and perhaps lacking the generalizability of some other studies, the authors suggest that their findings challenge the assumption that “climate change” is the most effective label for engaging individuals on the issue and that the specific term “climate crisis” may elicit backlash for its overtly extreme connotations.

Certainty That the Phenomenon Exists

In addition to cognitive content accessibility and affective responses, studies have examined the influence of labeling on the public’s beliefs about the existence of the phenomenon—a variable which, like perceived problem seriousness, has been theorized to play a foundational role in support for climate mitigation and adaptation policies (Krosnick, Holbrook, Lowe, & Visser, 2006). Despite the strong consensus among scientists that human activities are responsible for global warming and climate change, large segments of the public—particularly in the U.S., where the issue remains highly politicized—continue to doubt that the phenomenon is real. Might labeling influence reported existence beliefs as well?

Schuldt et al. (2011) addressed this question in a survey experiment involving 2,267 U.S. respondents who reported their beliefs about the phenomenon’s existence in response to a question worded in terms of either “global warming” or “climate change” (alternative wording in brackets): “You may have heard about the idea that the world’s temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called ‘global warming’ [‘climate change’]. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?” (1=Definitely has not been happening to 7 = Definitely has been happening). Results revealed a main effect of labeling on personal existence beliefs, with fewer respondents expressing high belief (5 or higher on the 7-point scale) in the “global warming” condition (67.7%) as compared to the “climate change” condition (74.0%). Notably, incorporating political affiliation in the analysis revealed a substantial labeling effect among Republicans in particular—whereas a majority of Republicans expressed high belief in climate change (60.2%), only a minority of Republicans expressed high belief in global warming (44.0%); in contrast, the beliefs of Democrats and Independents were unaffected by wording, carrying implications for the apparent partisan divide on this issue. This pattern of effects was replicated in a survey experiment conducted over three years later utilizing a different national-level sample (Schuldt, Roh, & Schwarz, 2015; see also Baumer et al., 2015 for a replication with U.S.-based Amazon Mechanical Turk participants), which, moreover, suggested that the effect of labeling extends to social perceptions about the beliefs of others (“meta-beliefs”), namely, those of scientists. Specifically, respondents were significantly less likely to perceive a scientific consensus on “global warming” as compared to “climate change,” an effect observed among Democrats and Republicans alike—despite strong scientific consensus that both global warming and climate change are real. The potential for labels to influence perceptions of scientific consensus may carry important implications for climate engagement, in light of recent analyses demonstrating that perceived scientific consensus is a strong predictor of individuals’ support for climate mitigation policies (e.g., Ding et al., 2011; Lewandowsky, Gignac, & Vaughan, 2013; McCright, Dunlap, & Xiao, 2013; van der Linden, Leiserowitz, Feinberg, & Maibach, 2015).

In their national survey work examining labeling effects on public perceptions, Leiserowitz and colleagues (2014) also solicited respondents’ personal certainty that global warming/climate change exists as well as perceptions of the beliefs of climate scientists. In response to the question: “Do you think that global warming [climate change] is happening? (yes, no, don’t know),” equal numbers (62% and 63%, respectively) responded in the affirmative, and there was similarly no observed difference in the proportion correctly responding that “Most scientists think global warming [climate change] is happening”—in contrast to the above findings of Schuldt and colleagues (2011, 2015). However, this apparent inconsistency may partly reflect differences in questionnaire design and surrounding survey context. Whereas respondents in the studies by Schuldt and colleagues were asked first to report their personal existence beliefs on a seven-point scale measure, Leiserowitz and colleagues’ respondents first enumerated their cognitive associations with these labels and rated the valence of these associations before reporting their personal existence belief on a three-category response measure. As a large literature in survey methodology attests, the content of earlier questions can significantly shape responses to later questions (for overviews, see Schwarz, 1999; Tourangeau & Rasinski, 1988)—and thus, future research that systematically examines these questionnaire design variables (e.g., question order, response scale type) can lend valuable insight into whether and how these factors may contribute to the observed patterns of results (for effects of question order in climate surveys, see Schuldt et al., 2015, and Villar & Krosnick, 2011). Similarly, comparisons to surveys in which respondents are exposed to multiple labels at the same time (a within-subjects design) or in the context of other environmental problems should be made with caution, given that these contextual influences may eliminate effects of labels encountered in isolation (e.g., by alerting respondents to the researcher’s interest in labeling effects, or by rendering accessible a respondent’s cognitive associations with both global warming and climate change) (e.g., Dunlap, 2014).

Possible Mechanisms of Labeling Effects

Despite some inconsistent results, the bulk of available evidence suggests that “global warming” may represent a more polarizing term than “climate change” in public discourse about climate and sustainability issues—it has been found to elicit lower perceptions of problem seriousness (Villar & Krosnick, 2011) and lower existence beliefs among U.S. Republicans in particular (Schuldt et al., 2011, 2015). To date, however, limited empirical work has addressed possible underlying mechanisms of this politics-contingent labeling effect, although a number of potential explanations have been advanced.

One potential explanation is that global warming’s more urgent and catastrophic connotations may make it an attractive frame for those seeking to emphasize the issue’s urgency (e.g., Democrats), connotations that may simultaneously ring hyperbolic to groups that are less certain about the phenomenon’s existence and import (e.g., Republicans), perhaps leading them to disengage. Some support for this account comes from the findings of Villar and Krosnick (2011) and Leiserowitz et al. (2014) reviewed above, which together suggest that “global warming” may evoke heightened perceptions of problem seriousness and threat responses among groups that are typically more concerned about climate issues (i.e., Democrats). Second, data collected in England by Whitmarsh (2008) showing that global warming elicits stronger connotations of human causation on open-ended measures may help explain why that label is especially polarizing, in light of survey data suggesting that a sizable portion of Republicans reject the notion that climate change is caused by humans (as compared to nature) (Dietz, Dan, & Shwom, 2007; Hamilton, 2011)—although note that this difference in causal associations was not observed by Schuldt and Roh (2014a) in their U.S. sample. A third explanation regards the possibility of motivated reasoning among partisans: given the strong heat-related connotations carried by “global warming” (Leiserowitz, 2006; Whitmarsh, 2008) and the well-documented tendency for citizens to conflate issues of weather and climate (Bostrom & Lashof, 2004; Bostrom, Morgan, Fischoff, & Read, 1994), the unidirectional implications of global warming may provoke skepticism when cold weather events are salient.

Regarding the latter account, recent experimental work by Schuldt and Roh (2014b) sought to examine whether the salience of cold weather events would indeed undermine belief in “global warming” as compared to “climate change” among more skeptical partisans in particular. In the period immediately following a well-publicized, unseasonably cold weather event at Cornell University (significant snowfall in late April), researchers recruited campus passersby to complete a short paper-and-pencil questionnaire assessing climate-related beliefs, worded in terms of either global warming or climate change (Schuldt & Roh, 2014b, Study 1). To ensure adequate salience of the cold weather event, the questionnaire included an image of a well-known campus landmark (a statue of the university’s founder) covered in snow; additionally, after answering the climate-related questions, participants reported on basic demographic variables, including a single-item measure of environmental concern—“Generally speaking, how concerned are you about the state of the natural environment?” (1=Not at all concerned to 7=Very concerned). Consistent with the hypothesis that unseasonably cold weather may increase doubt in “global warming” among more skeptical audiences, results revealed less belief in “global warming” than “climate change” among participants who reporting low (but not high) levels of environmental concern. In a follow-up experiment (Schuldt & Roh, 2014b, Study 2), this general pattern was replicated in a design that randomly assigned participants to an unseasonably cold weather prime, an unseasonably warm weather prime, or a seasonable weather (control) prime, under the guise of evaluating photographs the university campus calendar. Specifically, compared to the control condition, priming unseasonably cold weather reduced belief in global warming—but not in climate change—among both political conservatives and those low in environmental concern. This pattern was not observed among liberals or those high in environmental concern.

The observation that these labels appear to interact with salient heat-related cues in shaping belief judgments is consistent with a number of contemporary theoretical perspectives in psychology and communication. As many studies have now demonstrated, fleeting exposure to heat-related stimuli can strengthen existence beliefs and concerns about global warming—including exposure to warmer outdoor temperatures (i.e., the “local warming” effect; Egan & Mullin, 2012; Joireman, Truelove, & Duell, 2010; Li, Johnson, & Zaval, 2011; Zaval, Keenan, Johnson, & Weber, 2014; see also Deryugina, 2013) as well as warmer indoor temperatures (Risen & Critcher, 2011), heat-related semantic primes (e.g., “boil”; Joireman et al., 2010), and even metaphor-linked embodied experiences (e.g., tasting “hot” cinnamon-flavored chewing gum; Lewandowski, Ciarocco, & Gately, 2012). While such findings challenge the traditional view of citizens as highly competent and rational actors with well-formulated beliefs (see Druckman, 2001), they are consistent with perspectives from the heuristic and biases tradition in judgment and decision-making research (Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, 2002), which recognize that survey respondents routinely rely on information that happens to be highly accessible and seemingly relevant when generating responses (Schwarz & Clore, 1983; Tourangeau, Rasinski, Bradburn, & D’Andrade, 1989). The notion that accessible information need also be deemed relevant in order to influence the judgment at hand is reiterated in social-cognitive theories that emphasis the importance of concept applicability in addition to accessibility (Higgins, 1996)—further supporting the expectation that heat-related primes will exert stronger effects on beliefs about “global warming” than “climate change” and the situated nature of labeling effects more broadly.

Beyond the biasing influence of situated cues, individuals’ pre-existing values and social commitments may introduce an additional source of bias in the form of motivated reasoning. A sizable literature in psychology and communication, including in climate change communication specifically (e.g., Myers et al., 2012), documents a tendency for issue partisans to differentially perceive the same information in ways that reinforce their predispositions (e.g., Balcetis & Dunning, 2006; Hastorf & Cantril, 1954). In the present case, a tendency for conservatives to report less certainty that “global warming” exists following reminders of unseasonably cold weather suggests they may be interpreting the information through a partisan lens; for their part, liberals, too, may be motivated to express more certainty in “global warming” following reminders about unseasonably warm weather, provided that their historically high levels of belief and concern have sufficient headroom at the upper end of the scale.3 More generally, the recognition that these labels may resonate differentially as a function of the salience of heat-related information, and across partisan lines, carries implications for label usage and preferences across partisans—among both media and political elites as well as the general public, as discussed below.

Label Usage and Preferences

A handful of studies to date have investigated the preferences and usage patterns of common climate-related labels among elites and the general public. Analyzing data from over 700 residents of Michigan’s upper peninsula, Akerlof and Maibach (2011) solicited respondents’ preferred label with the following item: “Which term do you prefer? (Global warming, Climate change, Global climate change, Other, I have no preference).” Results revealed that while nearly equivalent percentages in the overall sample indicated a preference for “Global warming” (18%) as they did for “Climate change” (21%) (13% selected “Global climate change” and 40% selected “I have no preference”), preferences varied depending on respondents’ reported beliefs about the existence and causes of global warming. Specifically, among respondents who indicated that global warming is happening, as well as those who reported that it is caused mostly by human actions, “global warming” was preferred to “climate change” approximately 50% more often, whereas the opposite pattern was observed among respondents who indicated that global warming is not happening or is caused mostly by natural processes. With regard to political affiliation, a similar but weaker pattern was observed, whereby Democrats preferred “global warming” to “climate change” at 28% versus 20%, respectively, whereas Republicans were indifferent between the two terms (16% selected each; Independents and Others showed a clear preference for “climate change”).

While informative, stated preferences may differ from actual behavior in the form of label usage. In this vein, Leiserowitz et al. (2014) surveyed their U.S. national sample regarding how often they observe the terms being used and how often they personally use them. In both cases, the advantage went to “global warming,” which was reported as being observed (45% vs. 12%) and personally used (35% vs. 16%) substantially more often than “climate change.”

Examining label usage across issue partisans, a content analysis by Schuldt and colleagues (2011) explored language use on the Web pages of liberal and conservative U.S. think tanks. Results revealed that whereas conservative think tanks tended to employ “global warming” more often than “climate change,” liberal think tanks showed the opposite pattern. This result has been interpreted as reflecting the strategic use of labels by political elites, in light of the finding that the U.S. public—and particularly Republicans and conservatives—report lower levels of belief in the existence of “global warming.” Consistent with these results, an analysis by Gann and Matlock (2014) on the use and semantic relationships of these two terms in a large corpus of partisan news media (e.g., conservative outlets such as The Wall Street Journal vs. liberal outlets such as The Huffington Post) revealed that, although climate change appeared approximately twice as often as global warming overall, conservative outlets were more likely to use the global warming label in isolation (i.e., in 31% of documents, as compared to in 15% of documents among liberal organizations), whereas liberal outlets were more likely to invoke both terms in a given news piece. Examining whether similar patterns emerge in social media, a recent analysis of Twitter data (Jang & Hart, 2015) found that references to global warming prevailed over climate change in states that lean Republican (“red” states), whereas the opposite pattern was observed in states that lean Democrat (“blue” states). Further suggesting that this usage pattern reflects strategic discourse across partisans, the study also found that “global warming” appeared more often in tweets advancing a hoax frame for the issue—perhaps reflecting, in part, an expectation that the label’s distinct connotations (e.g., rising temperatures, human causation) may better resonate with skeptical audiences seeking to discredit the issue.

Although these results regarding differential label usage across partisan may appear at odds with the preference data reported by Akerlof and Maibach (2011), it is important to note that data speak to fundamentally different communication settings. Whereas citizens who accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change and support more progressive climate action may state a preference for “global warming” because of its connotations of urgency, those seeking to maintain and promote heightened skepticism may actually use that term more often when crafting messages for like-minded audiences, given that conservatives and Republicans report less certainty in the reality of “global warming” than “climate change” (Schuldt et al., 2011, 2015). Additional research into the preferences and usage patterns of these terms, among both elites and the general public, will help advance not only our understanding of everyday climate change communication but the strategic intent (or lack thereof) underlying the use of these common labels.

Distinguishing Labeling Effects from Framing Effects

As discussed above, scholars in communication and political science have typically situated labeling effects within the literature on framing effects and that of framing theory more broadly (e.g., Cacciatore, Scheufele, & Shaw, 2012; Price, Nir, & Capella, 2005; Schuldt et al., 2011). Conceptualizing labeling effects (e.g., “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice”) as a type of emphasis framing effect (Druckman, 2001), in particular, has proven useful for generating hypotheses regarding labeling effects on the accessibility of cognitive knowledge and, by extension, the conditions under which labels are likely to influence opinion outcomes. At the same time, labels are not frames (Lakoff, 2010), and although they can be expected to function similarly in cases where they elicit distinct yet readily applicable schemas in the minds of audiences, communication theory stands to benefit from a more nuanced consideration of the differences between labeling effects and framing effects, as discussed next.

Characteristics of Labels Versus Frames

In considering the differences between labels, frames, and their effects, a comparison of the studies discussed in this chapter and typical framing studies is instructive. Whereas studies investigating effects of global warming/climate change labeling on public perceptions have typically varied only the label itself as part of a between-subjects experimental design (e.g., Leiserowitz et al., 2014; Schuldt et al., 2011, 2015; Villar & Krosnick, 2011), studies of framing effects commonly involve manipulating a richer set of information content. For instance, the classic work on episodic versus thematic framing in news coverage (Iyengar, 1990)—a well-known example of emphasis framing—involves representing a given issue (e.g., poverty) through the use of more vivid, personalizing detail (e.g., focused on the plight of a single family) or more general information (e.g., societal-level trends or policy matters), respectively. In the domain of climate change communication, research investigating different ways of framing the risks of climate change (e.g., in terms of its “environmental,” “public health,” or “national security” implications; Myers, Nisbet, Maibach, & Leiserowitz, 2012; see also Gifford & Comeau, 2011; Schuldt, McComas, & Byrne, 2016) similarly involves exposing audiences to substantively different communication texts, with the goal of instantiating distinct audience frames in order to test their effects on public opinion. In such studies, the “frame” metaphor is particularly apt, given that the target issue—whether poverty or climate change—is held constant, presented to the audience regardless of experimental condition; only the contextual or surrounding information is varied. The labeling studies discussed in this chapter by and large do not share this feature—audiences are exposed to one label in isolation and typically are asked to respond to little information besides the label itself (e.g., What comes to mind when you hear the term “climate change?”).

Although a thorough explication of the implications of the different characteristics of labels and frames is beyond the scope of this chapter, it is worth noting that they likely hold important and underresearched consequences for information processing and, in turn, the nature of labeling versus framing effects. For instance, one implication regards the audience’s awareness of the selective presence or absence of information that may bias their judgments. To the extent that emphasis frames involve explicit arguments, metaphors, examples, and other persuasive devices in an attempt to evoke distinct cognitive schemas, audience members may become increasingly aware of the framing attempt—perhaps increasing the likelihood that they will consciously reject (e.g., counter-argue; Petty & Cacioppo, 1979) or attempt to overcorrect for its perceived and unwanted influence on judgment (e.g., Schwarz & Clore, 1983; Wegener & Petty, 1995; Wilson & Brekke, 1994). In contrast, the use of one label over another, especially when the labels in question are treated as virtual synonyms in colloquial discourse, may be less likely to attract scrutiny as a possible source of bias. Indeed, recent findings suggest that “global warming” versus “climate change” labeling may routinely escape notice and exert a significant effect on judgments—until participants’ attention is directed to the label as part of an awareness intervention, in which case its influence on judgment is eliminated (Baumer, Polletta, Pierski, & Gay, 2015).

As communication scholars devote effort to understanding effects of labeling in discourse on climate change and other leading scientific issues—including energy development, nanotechnology, agricultural biotechnology (e.g., Cacciatore et al., 2012; Clarke et al., 2015; Evensen et al., 2014; Siegrist & Keller, 2011)—our field stands to benefit from a more nuanced understanding of the antecedents and consequences that distinguish labeling effects from more traditional framing effects.


As scholars have acknowledged the power of words to shape how the public thinks about and engages with climate issues (Lakoff, 2010; Nisbet, 2009), there is a growing interest in the labels used to represent the phenomenon itself, particularly the ubiquitous “global warming” and “climate change.” As others have noted (Palmer, 2012), these terms, more than any others, have come to dominate public and elite discourse related to the most pressing environmental issue of our time, and yet climate change communication research has only begun to study their effects on how the public perceives and engages with the issue. As this article hopefully makes clear, although the literature has yielded some consistent as well as inconsistent findings, it nevertheless offers insights that may prove useful in the efforts of climate communication scholars and practitioners alike.

First, while often treated as synonymous, the terms global warming and climate change may in fact promote very different reactions among the public and, furthermore, may be employed strategically by partisans seeking to invite particular mindsets or frames in thought among audiences. Second, in many cases, these differences may hold consequences for public opinion on climate-related issues, as seen in data revealing greater perceptions of problem seriousness (Leiserowitz et al., 2014; Villar & Krosnick, 2011) or heightened partisan disagreement regarding global warming (relative to climate change) (Schuldt et al., 2011, 2015; see also Baumer et al., 2015; Jang & Hart, 2015). Third, although the labeling effects discussed here are theoretically expected to operate in a similar manner as framing effects by increasing the accessibility of particular cognitive concepts and schemas over others (e.g., Leiserowitz et al., 2014; Schuldt & Roh, 2014a; Whitmarsh, 2008), it may nevertheless be worthwhile to distinguish labeling from framing, which typically involves the use of more overt, richer, and varied messaging features (including metaphors and arguments) to instantiate the audience mindsets that communicators seek. The different features of labels and frames may well hold underappreciated implications for the psychological antecedents and consequences of labeling versus framing effects, an area that is ripe for theory development and further empirical inquiry.

Finally, it is important to note that labeling effects, like other psychological effects that hinge upon primed associations originating from situational cues, are likely to be highly context-dependent and thus variable across people, settings, and time. In addition to further investigating the nature of labeling versus framing effects in climate change communication, future research would benefit from attending more closely to the ways that subtle differences in research contexts may themselves influence the subtle messaging effects under study. By deepening our understanding of these contextual influences, the field can continue to build more accurate predictions regarding the conditions under which labels such as “global warming” and “climate change” shape how the public perceives one of the greatest scientific and social challenges of our time.


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(1.) For the purposes of this chapter, the words “label” and “term” are treated interchangeably.

(2.) This question was repeated for the second and third instances.

(3.) Data from Schuldt and Roh (2014b, Study 2) provide some partial evidence along these lines: the unseasonably warm prime led to significantly greater belief in the existence of global warming (but not climate change) among participants reporting high levels of environmental concern. However, this pattern was not mirrored among liberal participants.