Fenella Scutt: Researching how hope and concern motivate pro-environmental behavior in the context of youth activists and social media posts


Fenella Scutt, Maria DiGiano, Avery Hanna, Nicole Ardoin


How we construct hopeful and concerning frames around climate change is a pressing question in science research and communication. Through a humanistic lens, we seek to determine if emotions like hope, concern, fear and anger act as motivators to continue fighting against climate change. This study aims to explore how youth climate activists’ distinct experiences and understandings impact their environmentally friendly behaviors, and how the media sources they interact with foster emotional responses and discussion. We conducted 5 pilot interviews with leaders of environmental organizations within the Bay Area, asking a range of open-ended questions and concluding the conversations with a social media elicitation. Two Instagram posts were chosen from environmental accounts with large followings and interviewees were asked to describe their immediate emotional responses. Immediate post-interview memos were written, a preliminary codebook created, and transcripts were prepared for coding in NVivo. The 8 thematic categories for coding are: 1) Type of Action, 2) Motivating Environmentally-Efforts, 3) Motivations for Environmental Media Use, 4) Framing of Shared Climate Change Content, 5) Hope, 6) Concern, 7) Fear, and 8) Anger. Initial themes from the interviews indicate that hope is highly correlated with collective motivation and feelings of power, most notably, youth empowerment allowing all voices to be heard. Mobilization is highly valued and social media is a core strategy used by organizations for community outreach. Next steps for the Social Ecology Lab are to continue to refine and build this codebook, then analyze the interview data to draw conclusions surrounding which emotions correlate with specific actions or motivate environmental behavior.

Keywords: Climate change, hope, concern, youth climate activism, environmental organizations, social media, photo elicitation

Poster & Video Presentation

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10 Comments on “Fenella Scutt: Researching how hope and concern motivate pro-environmental behavior in the context of youth activists and social media posts

  1. Hello Fenella!

    I really enjoyed learning about your work. Analyzing discourses around climate change is indeed very important to be able to communicate facts around the issue in the most impactful manner and to motivate actions in that regards. It was interesting to find that “hope” and “collective action” were among the key themes that came up during the initial stages of the analysis. I am looking forward to reading the paper once the research is completed!

  2. Nice job, Fenella! I enjoyed learning about your summer research! I’m curious what a ‘codebook’ is in this context, and also to what extent youth views on climate change are shaped by parental views vs. friends and social media.

    • Hi Karen!

      The preliminary codebook I created for qualitative analysis was based on a collection of common themes from throughout the interview process. If I was to analyze the interview data, I could code each interview for these themes to see where they overlap. For example, I may see an emotion like hope overlapping with a motivational feeling such as youth empowerment, and if we see this across multiple interviews, we can begin to draw conclusions.

  3. Hi Fenella,

    Great job! I really enjoyed your poster and how you presented your information in a clear and visually appealing way.

    I also thought your study audience of climate youth activists was so interesting, as well as the social media angle! I was wondering if you focused on specific social media platforms (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.), and if so, which ones? I also thought your development of annotated bibliography/codebook to code images to be super useful (and impressive! I’m sure that was a lot of literature to sort through) – was there anything particularly surprising that emerged in how people typically code image? I presume that type of stuff can be pretty subjective.

    Nice job!

    • Hi Bianca, these are also interesting questions we debated throughout the process! After browsing and collecting quantitative data from the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Blog accounts of each activist organization, in the end, I chose to work with just two Instagram images completely removed from the organization feeds for the social media elicitation. However, this process did set us up for the possibility of a larger scale social media analysis study! As for the coding of images, most prior research has been carried out on a large scale, but it was interesting to find that databases exist if you are trying to access information such as the number of likes, comments and shares certain posts are getting. For coding of social media images such as in our elicitation, the caption can be coded using NVivo, then coding the image itself will likely have an element of subjectivity to it.

  4. Hi Fenella,

    Your project sounds really interesting! My project was also on the same theme of environmental social media, and I completely agree with you that it’s one of the most impactful and important platforms right now. Did your work this summer give you any ideas on what elements make an effective social media post or if not, maybe it sparked some ideas about elements that you’d want to explore further?

    • Hi Natalie, thanks for the comments and in answer to your question, yes it did spark some ideas for further exploration! Since one of the overarching themes in the Social Ecology lab is our connection to Redwood forests, I thought it could be cool to carry out a similar social media elicitation study using posts directly related to the local Redwoods. We could ask local residents how they are impacted by a post that contains hopeful messages about the impacts of climate change on the Redwoods, then compare this to their response to a concerning post about this ecosystem.

  5. Great work Fenella! It sounds like as the project moves forward and expands the interview sample size, that you’ll have a wealth of information to identify and crystallize some of these trends that you’ve been seeing this summer. Very cool and impactful area of study, as you’ll be diving into the deep end of exploring the thoughts and attitudes of a demographic that will have a lot of power to change how we deal with environmental issues!

    • Thanks for your comments, Nik! It was great to be able to collaborate with you over the summer in our discussion surrounding next steps for the social media content analysis. Good luck with the rest of your work!

  6. Hi Natalie, thanks for the comment and in answer to your question, yes it definitely did spark some ideas regarding further exploration! Since our connection to the Redwood forests is one of the overarching themes in the lab, I thought it could be cool to explore a photo elicitation and analysis of social media content that is directly related to the Redwoods. For example, a post that is conveying a hopeful message surrounding the impacts of climate change on the local Redwood forests, in comparison to a concerning post about this ecosystem!

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