Author Archives: Matthew Nisbet

Framing Public Health Issues

Aug 30, 2012, 11:30 AM, Posted by Matthew Nisbet

This Q&A originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health Blog.

Environmental issues are consistently a topic of hot debate. A new study reveals that how we talk about these issues could have a big impact on whether people feel compelled to act on them. According to new research led by two awardees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research, Matthew C. Nisbet, PhD, MS, and Edward W. Maibach, PhD, MPH, talking about the environmental consequences of climate change may not convince the unconvinced—while talking about the public health consequences might have a better chance.

As the American University and George Mason University professors write in a newly published study in the journal Climatic Change Letters, “Results show that across audience segments, the public health focus was the most likely to elicit emotional reactions consistent with support for climate change mitigation and adaptation.”  The study was co-authored with Teresa Myers and Anthony Leiserowitz.

We caught up with Matthew Nisbet to get his take on the latest findings, and how the public health field can do a better job of framing issues in a way that motivates action.

New Public Health: What is message framing?

Matthew Nisbet: When you frame something as a communicator or as a journalist or as an expert, what you do is you emphasize one dimension of a complex issue over another, calling attention to certain considerations and certain arguments more so than other arguments. In the process, what you do is you communicate why an issue may or may not be a problem, who or what is responsible for that problem and then what should be done. One of the common misunderstandings about framing is that there can be something such as unframed information. Every act of communication, whether intentional or not, involves some type of framing.

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