Psychological science can be used to inform climate science graph design, resulting in more meaningful and useful graphs for communication, especially with non-scientists. In this study, we redesigned graphs from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and compared participant attention and perceptions between original and novel designs with pre-/post-surveys, eye-tracking, graph usability and ranking activities, and interviews. Participants were selected for lower content knowledge and risk perception of climate from a sample of undergraduate students in the southeastern U.S. Here, we demonstrate our robust graph redesign process and the associated impacts on participants’ perceptions of graph usability, graph and scientist credibility, and risk associated with climate change. These findings indicate that interacting with climate change graphs may impact perceptions that are relevant to individuals’ motivation to take action to address climate change across political audiences, and possibly even more so among self-identified Conservatives. Additionally, participants who viewed graphs designed to align with research-informed best practices had greater increases in perceptions of climate scientist credibility and climate change risk, though these contrasts were not statistically significant (p > 0.05). Participants rated redesigned graphs as being more trustworthy, which is critical to successful climate change communication, and our qualitative results provide a possible explanation and initial points of exploration for future research.

Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC license.