Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Experimental Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Lucian Conway

Commitee Members

Allen Szalda-Petree, Stephen Yoshimura


Climate change, cognitive complexity, attitudes, mass media, communication


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Social Psychology


The vast majority of scientists agree that anthropogenic activities have caused the level of CO2 in the atmosphere to rise at an unprecedented rate, and that the consequences of such a rise may very well be extreme. Despite these warnings, the American people do not possess, on average, the same level of concern towards climate change as scientists. The polarization of media in recent decades, the prevalence of selective exposure, and the general position on climate change of the two major political parties have led to liberals and conservatives consuming different information relevant to climate science. While evidence exists that there are accuracy differences in the information consumed by these two groups, there is also reason to suspect that linguistic differences are also present. This investigation sought to understand whether the dissemination of climate science information contained different types of complexity across conservative and liberal media. Because complexity has important attitudinal consequences, scientifically investigating whether the climate science information being dispersed by the leading conservative (FOX) and liberal (MSNBC) media outlets differs in its integrative complexity is a critical step in understanding the current attitudinal divide. Trained complexity coders scored 30 articles published on the websites of FOX and MSNBC for the two levels of Integrative Complexity: dialectical and elaborative. It was expected that FOX articles would contain higher levels of dialectical complexity than MSNBC, and that MSNBC articles would contain higher levels of elaborative complexity than FOX. Results revealed evidence consistent with the hypothesized pattern of complexity use; however, these differences between media outlets’ use of integrative complexity did not attain conventional levels of statistical significance. I discuss possible reasons for this failure to find statistical significance and future directions.



© Copyright 2015 Meredith A. Repke