This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Building Better Graphs for Climate Change Communication: Evidence from Eye-Tracking




Courtney, Stephanie

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis




Reducing harm from global climate change will require public participation and therefore public education. Visual data representations such as graphs are often used for communication with public audiences but they are rarely designed using available evidence from cognitive science research. In the current study, undergraduate students took a pre-survey measuring climate change knowledge, climate scientist credibility perception, and perception of risk associated with climate change. Participants with low risk perception and low knowledge of climate change were then invited to the lab to view and answer questions about climate change graphs. Students either viewed original graphs from IPCC Summaries for Policymakers or new versions of the same graphs re-designed to fit evidence-based guidelines from Harold et al. (2016). Eye-tracking technology, which measures viewers’ eye movements as a proxy for attention to different parts of the graphs, was used to evaluate usability. Overall participation in the activity increased participant risk perception, climate scientist consensus estimate, and perception of credibility of climate scientists. Results indicate many similarities in participant use of original and redesigned graphs, but slightly improved performance with original graphs primarily due to familiar formatting. Participants perceived the redesigned graphs as more credible and more satisfactory and one of the redesigned graphs as more worrying than the equivalent IPCC originals. Participant feedback was used to redesign the graphs again for use in a small third condition with improved results.