PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


The influence of environmental perception and media coverage upon risk perception and pro-environmental engagement - a case study by the horse chestnut leafminer

Bernhard Goodwin  

Bernhard Goodwin (co-author) will give the talk. Information about environmental changes are communicated to the public mainly through mass media. However, individuals judge risks to the environment not only based on media information, but also on their own perception of the environment. Understanding how personal risk perception of the public depends on media information and perception of environmental change is essential for effective environmental communication from scientists to the public. Within a 2x3 experimental design we investigated (1) the importance of the publics' perception of environmental changes and (2) the influence of the style of newspaper articles on publics' risk perception of an environmental change and the resulting actions by the citizens. As case example we used the invasive horse chestnut leafminer Cameraria ohridella. The leafminer causes a distinctive pattern of damage to white flowering horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum), which is clearly observable for citizens. We set up a quantitative survey (N1=479) in 12 German regions in 2014, showing either high or low infestation level. Randomly chosen people (aged between 18 and 70) were assigned to one of three newspaper articles (tabloid, quality-journalistic, popular-scientific) differing in their journalistic representation, complexity and fragility of content with respect to the chestnut leafminer. The articles were incorporated as an experimental stimulus within the online questionnaire, which included variables testing "personal perception of an environmental change", "subjective risk perception" and the behavioral intention "to inform other people". Our results indicate that (1) the perception of an environmental change is a highly important factor contributing to risk perception and adaption of environmental behavior. (2) We could show that information by newspaper articles in general increase risk perception, but that the article with medium level of complexity and fragility (quality-journalistic article) showed the greatest effects on change of risk perception.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.