Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication

Document Type



Today the list of environmental disasters threatening lives and natural resources has expanded to include many causes. Even though sustainable solutions have never been so urgent, public still issues low priority to many of these serious threats. Many impacts of environmental deprivation, such as coastal land loss, are invisible to the untrained eye, causing individuals to distance themselves psychologically from the risks. The slow pace of environmental degradation constitutes one of the biggest challenges in sustainability communication. The success of sustainable development will require the public to undergo a significant shift in thinking about environmental issues. This dissertation systemically investigates the influence of visual imagery on how people perceive environmental change. It explores visuals’ ability to influence issue urgency, issue importance, issue engagement, and issue salience. The relationship between these variables is investigated in a sequential and mixed-method format that involves content analysis and focus group discussions Results, which were interpreted in the context of the Visual Perception Model, suggested that affect and cognition influences one another to shape environmental perceptions. Particularly, images that incorporate hypothetical future scenarios are more likely to convey the urgency and importance of an issue. While images with an added affective component (positive and negative cues) make messages more engaging, they can also reduce motivation to take action. Willingness to support environmental solutions appears to be a result of public’s ability to visualize short-term goals and successes.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Reynolds, Amy