The full story: understanding how films affect environmental change through the lens of narrative persuasion.

Published online
07 Aug 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

McCormack, C. M. & Martin, J. K. & Williams, K. J. H.
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Researchers in conservation fields have recently highlighted the potential for visual storytelling to convey environmental messages to large audiences. However, an effective model for how such narratives can produce environmental outcomes, such as human-nature connection and pro-environmental behaviour (PEB), has not yet been developed. Substantial evidence now suggests that narrative is an effective means of changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. This effect is demonstrated in diverse disciplines and understood within the theoretical frameworks of narrative persuasion. We propose a conceptual framework for understanding the impacts of environmental films on environmental behaviours, and connection with nature. Linking insights from the narrative persuasion field with those of conservation psychology, we identify three promising pathways through which environmental films might influence their audiences: (a) reduced resistance to environmental messages, (b) interactions with audience identity and (c) meaningful media experiences. This analysis raises key questions and illuminates priority areas for future research, with an aim to complement and extend existing calls to better appreciate the role of film in addressing environmental problems. Research moving forward should focus on understanding the role environmental films can play in connecting people with nature, promoting PEB and the relationship between the two. Specifically, more attention should be paid to the role of deictic shift in encouraging environmental outcomes, the relation between audiences and characters and the power for film to support self-expansion.

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