Research Summary

The role of entertainment in engagement with climate change

Using educational entertainment to engage the public in climate change

Environmental Education Research
2019

Interest and concern about climate change among the general public has declined in recent years. Some research has shown that ‘edutainment,’ or educational media that is entertaining, may improve engagement on climate change. Little is known about the relationship between entertainment and cognitive engagement, which is the audience’s ability to retain information. Cognitive engagement is key to maintaining interest and motivation to overcome the challenge of learning new material. The researchers believed that an individual’s level of entertainment after viewing the video may influence their cognitive engagement. This study examined how climate change ‘edutainment’ impacted the cognitive engagement of the viewer, and whether a variety of demographic factors predicted viewer engagement with an ‘edutaining’ video.

The researchers created two educational videos about climate change, each around five minutes. Both videos contained the same educational components, but one was an ‘edutaining’ video that contained five additional entertaining video clips from popular film, television, and memes. The researchers advertised a survey on Facebook groups that had different political views. The Facebook groups were selected based on explicit support for a political candidate, a politically polarizing issue, or a discussion board for a particular political identity. Participants first completed a short survey to measure their science literacy and then were randomly assigned to watch either the educational video or the ‘edutaining’ video. Immediately following the video, participants rated their level of entertainment and completed a 12-question survey directly related to the content of the video. Demographic data were also collected on the participants age, gender identity, ethnic identity, education, current employment status, household income, religiosity, and political identity. A total of 472 respondents participated in the study (58% female, 91% Caucasian, average age of 47, 64% left-wing). The number of correct questions in the pre-survey was used as an indicator for level of overall science literacy and the number of correct questions in the post-survey was used as an indicator of cognitive engagement with the video.

The study found that the ‘edutaining’ video promoted greater cognitive engagement through increasing entertainment. The participants who viewed the ‘edutaining’ video reported significantly greater entertainment than those who viewed the strictly educational video. Additionally, those who had greater entertainment were also likely to report higher cognitive engagement.

Certain demographic variables predicted cognitive engagement after watching the ‘edutaining’ video. The results suggested that ‘edutainment’ was more effective among younger participants, who reported greater entertainment than older participants. Greater science literacy was also associated with higher cognitive engagement. Participants who identified as politically left-wing also reported higher cognitive engagement. The authors confirmed that political identity was important to understand when delivering climate change information, and speculated that right-wing participants may have been less engaged due to politics or lower familiarity with climate change concepts.

The researchers identified limitations to the study. The pre-video survey did not contain questions that measured prior knowledge climate change specifically, rather overall science literacy. Some participants may have already known the answers to the post-video survey and therefore the measure of cognitive engagement may have been skewed. Another limitation is that the content of the ‘edutaining’ video was quite similar to the strictly educational video with the exception of the five short entertaining clips. The researchers suggest future studies should include videos that have greater differences. Lastly, the results cannot accurately be generalized to the population overall as a majority of the participants in this study identified as female, similar in age, Caucasian, and politically left-wing. A study undertaken with different participants may have different results.

The researchers suggest environmental education practitioners include more entertaining elements in educational videos. This method can be used in both informal and formal settings to increase cognitive engagement in topics related to environmental science and climate change. The researchers suggest practitioners should first understand the demographics of their audience to inform how to include entertaining elements in a beneficial manner and not distract from the educational message. The researchers also emphasize that more research needs to be done in this field to understand how to successfully implement ‘edutainment’ in EE.

The Bottom Line

The purpose of this study was to understand the impact of an entertaining educational video (‘edutainment’) on climate change compared to a strictly educational video. The researchers conducted two online surveys to measure entertainment value and cognitive engagement, which is key in helping people learn. The study found that the ‘edutaining’ video was associated with greater levels of entertainment, which was then associated with cognitive engagement, particularly among younger and left-wing viewers. The researchers recommend using ‘edutainment’ to promote interest and engagement with climate change.