Risk or Efficacy? How Psychological Distance Influences Climate Change Engagement

Haoran Chu, Janet Z. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Construal-level theory suggests that high-level abstract features weigh more in people's decision-making at farther distance, while low-level concrete features weigh more at closer distance. Based on this, we propose that psychological distance will influence the effect of risk versus efficacy framing on climate change engagement. In particular, risk perception related to the end-state expectancy of climate change mitigation should influence people's climate change engagement at farther distance. In contrast, efficacy perception related to the perceived feasibility of attaining end-state goals should influence engagement at closer distance. Results from an experimental survey based on a national sample that is both demographically and geographically representative (N = 1,282) supported our proposition. At closer spatial distance, perceived efficacy boosted by efficacy framing increased participants’ intention to perform climate mitigation behaviors. In contrast, at farther distance, risk framing increased behavioral intention through heightened risk perception. Based on these findings, we suggest that when communicating distant and abstract risks, highlighting their disastrous impacts may better motivate action. In contrast, when communicating impending and concrete risks, stressing the feasibility of action may have stronger motivational potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-770
Number of pages13
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Climate change
  • efficacy
  • psychological distance
  • risk


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