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Are You Threatening Me? Identity Threat, Resistance to Persuasion, and Boomerang Effects in Environmental Communication

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journal contribution
posted on 25.11.2021, 12:00 by Yanni Ma, Jay D. Hmielowski

In today’s increasingly polarized political environment, people are becoming resistant to persuasive messages, which creates challenges for those communicating about environmental issues to the public. Scholars have noted that opinion-challenging information could either be ineffective or lead to boomerang effects. As a result, research has started to examine the underlying mechanism of why messages are ineffective, with a specific emphasis on boomerang effects. We conducted three experiments to examine the role of environmental identity threat as a trigger of defense mechanisms and boomerang effects. In general, our study finds that identity threat from a message leads to increased psychological reactance, counter-arguing, and anxiety. There is also evidence that boomerang effects flow through identity threat and both counter-arguing and anxiety. Our results cast light upon designing persuasive messages to encourage individuals to engage in environmental behaviors without antagonizing them.