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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards a new economic paradigm : exploring mental models and message framing effects about ecological economics Tomaselli, Maria Fernanda


The transition to a sustainable economic paradigm may be one of the most important issues of our times. This study contributes to the effective communication of ecological economics, by: 1) identifying mental models on people’s perceptions about economic growth and the environment, 2) exploring the prevalence of expansionist and ecological attitudes, and segmenting the audience based on these attitudes, and 3) exploring the effects of different messages (about the transition to economies not centered on growth) on people’s thoughts, emotions and attitudes. Sixty interviews and 1,250 online surveys were carried out in British Columbia and Canada, respectively. Data were analysed with NVivo 10, IBM SPSS Statistics 23 and Latent Gold 5.1. Based on the interviews, five mental models were described. These sat in a spectrum of views anchored to an expansionist or to an ecological worldview. The most expansionist views (Cluster A) expressed great faith in indefinite economic growth and human ingenuity. The most ecological perspectives (Cluster E) acknowledged limits to economic growth, recognized the ecological crisis and expressed techno-skepticism. The other perspectives were in the middle of the spectrum. Based on the surveys, three audience segments were identified. Participants in Cluster 1 (41.1%) were the most optimistic towards technology and indefinite economic growth. Members of Cluster 2 (36.3%) did not express strong opinions. Participants in Cluster 3 (22.6%) acknowledged human unsustainability, expressed higher environmental concern and did not believe in indefinite growth. Sociodemographic factors (e.g. gender, political identification) correlated with the mental models and segments. Regarding the framing experiments, the messages influenced participant’s thoughts and emotions. Environmental messages invoked more references to resources and sustainability, while well-being messages generated more comments about overconsumption and happiness. Loss-framed messages caused greater negative emotions than gain-framed messages and the environmental message focused on losses generated the least hope and the greatest fear and anger among frames. There was no evidence that attitudinal responses were influenced by the frames. Most participants agreed with moving into an economic model with reduced consumption levels. This study provides data on topics that have been little explored and offers insights about the impacts of different post-growth messages.

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