An Impassioned Speech

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An Impassioned Speech
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Greta Thunberg speaking at the United Nations

By Harrison Tasoff, UC Santa Barbara

Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations rattled people around the globe. The 16-year-old accused world leaders of neglecting their duty and foisting the problems created by one generation onto the backs of another — today’s youth. Her statement was certainly morally charged.

But how exactly did the content of Thunberg’s message impact the effects it may have had?

To answer that question, Rene Weber, director of the Media Neuroscience Lab at UC Santa Barbara, and graduate student Frederic Hopp used a system Weber developed in his lab that analyzes real-world moral framing and moral conflict in messages.

“There is mounting evidence that environmental attitudes are firmly rooted in humans’ moral intuitions,” said Weber, also a professor in the Department of Communication. “As a result, successfully informing citizens about the consequences of climate change and calling for action will require activists and policy makers to frame their messages according to their audiences’ moral sensitivities.”

MoNa, the Moral Narrative Analyzer, takes advantage of computer algorithms, large-scale text mining and evaluations from a large, diverse group of humans to decode the innate moral framing within different texts.

According to Weber, all moral systems humans have developed touch on five fundamental categories.

  • - Care vs. Harm
  • - Fairness vs. Cheating
  • - Loyalty vs. Betrayal
  • - Authority vs. Subversion
  • - Purity vs. Desecration

Weber and Hopp were curious about the representation of these categories in Thunberg’s speech, so they used MoNA to decipher how she framed her message.

In line with Thunberg’s strong appeal to the harm and unfairness of the current climate crisis, MoNA identified care/harm and fairness/cheating as the most dominant moral frames in her speech.

Words related to care and fairness were well-represented in Thunberg’s speech (Photo Credit: RENE WEBER/ FREDERIC HOPP)

“Research has shown that liberals are especially sensitive to violations of care and fairness,” Weber explained, “whereas conservative individuals tend to place greater emphasis on violations of loyalty, authority, sanctity.” In this light, climate messages that stress the notions of care/harm and fairness/cheating will likely prove more persuasive among liberal audiences.

However, Weber continued, Thunberg also framed climate change as a betrayal of political leaders and older generations against the world’s youth, who will have to adapt to and address a crisis they inherited due to the recalcitrance and apathy of those currently in power.

Weber and Hopp also used MoNA to analyze the sentiment of the speech’s moral content — whether it was positive or negative. They found some intriguing patterns. Thunberg relies on more negative words when referring to issues of care and authority, they noted, potentially highlighting the violation of these moral foundations by policy leaders. In contrast, she appears to use more positive language when referring to topics of fairness and loyalty, potentially indicating her hope for future adherence to these foundations by world leaders.

These word clouds illustrate the positive or negative sentiment of words Thunberg used and their associated categories (Photo Credit: RENE WEBER/ FREDERIC HOPP)

For example, stating that “we need to care about the health of our climate” reflects a call for virtue in the care category, whereas stating that “we fail to adhere to our plans and agreements” suggests a vice in the loyalty foundation.

Weber and Hopp expressed caution regarding the results of their analysis. “Thunberg is relying on words that fall into categories of moral foundations,” Hopp said, but added that the broader effects this may have fall outside the scope of their relatively quick analysis. However, with more data, MoNA can help researchers and other interested groups to analyze real-world reactions — like activism, donations and changes in behavior — to speeches like Greta’s as well as other persuasive language.

“I believe this quick analysis demonstrates MoNA’s capability to extract moral frames from real-world text with high reliability and validity,” Weber said.

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mp805 Oct 14, 2019 05:23 PM
An Impassioned Speech

To OP. Thanks for the really insightful article! I also enjoyed your article on Aug 20th in the UCSB Current where you explain and go into more in depth regarding Mona - The Moral Narrative Analyzer program/algorithm. I especially found this part interesting "The information MoNA provides illustrates how people are framing stories and events at different times and across different regions of the world. This offers the researchers unprecedented insight on group dynamics, popular sentiment and social movements. Also this part as well..."For instance, researchers already know that framing a topic as a moral issue can drastically change a debate. “Moralizing debates can make people pay more attention, take sides, makes people engage and sometimes act,” Weber said. “Sometimes even against their own individual interests,” he added...... Curious to know if this is a strategy climate change activist use and how they frame their agenda as an urgent moral issue? I find it fascinating and frightening that we can moralize and shape a better message through a computer program or as you said shape a better message to help researchers and other interested groups to analyze real-world reactions — like activism, donations and changes in behavior.

Eggs Ackley Oct 16, 2019 08:10 AM
An Impassioned Speech

It's really pretty simple: Morality or Money. You decide.

macpuzl Oct 14, 2019 05:52 PM
An Impassioned Speech

Since facts must be ignored by climate deniers to argue their case, perhaps moral arguments have a chance. After all, they're going to have to justify their behavior to their descendants, if any.

sbdude Oct 14, 2019 06:01 PM
An Impassioned Speech

Anybody can be a critic. Heck, even I could stand in front of the UN and give a carefully crafted speech saying, "You guys created this problem, you guys fix it!" While I admire the zeal of young people like Greta, without workable solutions they're essentially blowing hot air. Identifying problems is easy, creating actual solutions is the hard part.

macpuzl Oct 14, 2019 06:15 PM
An Impassioned Speech

But the solution in the case of climate science is well-known: stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Follow the civilized world and generate energy from renewables instead of massively subsidizing and old toxic set of technologies.

Alexblue Oct 15, 2019 07:09 AM
An Impassioned Speech

SBDude, are you sure that she has not provided real world solutions in her speeches?

sea dog Oct 15, 2019 07:55 AM
An Impassioned Speech

The US puts out less carbon dioxide than we did 20 years ago. If we are not talking about China and India, we are not even trying to solve the excess CO2 problem !

biguglystick Oct 15, 2019 12:06 PM
An Impassioned Speech

China and India are actually now reducing their emission rates and reaching climate goals much faster than the U.S. If we are really to talk about the problems this planet faces, let's talk about POPULATION CONTROL. That's the real problem. Too damned many of us! Just google emmissions reports on China, India vs. U.S. You'll see...

JB86 Oct 14, 2019 09:21 PM
An Impassioned Speech

Are our tax and tuition dollars really going to stuff like this? Geez.

mp805 Oct 14, 2019 09:51 PM
An Impassioned Speech

OP correct me if Im wrong but the Mona project received funding from UC Santa Barbara’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies and the Army Research Lab.

Factotum Oct 14, 2019 09:55 PM
An Impassioned Speech

Both sources are funded by tax dollars. Where else does would that money come from? Tax dollars support the military and tax dollars support UCSB entities.

Alexblue Oct 15, 2019 07:08 AM
An Impassioned Speech

It's okay for you to admit you don' understand the research.

James B Oct 15, 2019 06:25 AM
An Impassioned Speech

She's definitely more convincing than any of the climate change science we have seen so far. Maybe Hollywood can make her a presenter at next year's Academy Awards.

a-1571149683 Oct 15, 2019 07:28 AM
An Impassioned Speech

Is there really anyone that believes there's anything about this girl that's not pure fabrication? Every Ounce of what you've seen is Hollywood Smoke. There is nothing about her that's real. The very people who you're entrusting Have Taken you on an emotional journey straight down a rabbit hole. Now that they've got your attention, they plan to bury you there. They gave you a little European Girl who floated over on a cute little boat to tell her story for gosh sake! All the bells and whistles of a Disney Animation. Time to Wake Up!

a-1571152330 Oct 15, 2019 08:12 AM
An Impassioned Speech

Best award for an actress: Greta. Best supporting actress: AOC. Best award for Director: her adult handlers. Best producer: the very deep pockets funding her movie that will profit off the new green deal.

biguglystick Oct 15, 2019 12:08 PM
An Impassioned Speech

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What is wrong with you? You live in a Disney world if you think the problems she is addressing aren't real. FFS.

jqb Oct 16, 2019 12:07 AM
An Impassioned Speech

Yes ... all intelligent people disbelieve your assertions.

Eggs Ackley Oct 16, 2019 08:06 AM
An Impassioned Speech

Denying the problem exists doesn't make it go away. Head in the sand is not a moral or ethical position.

PitMix Oct 17, 2019 10:11 AM
An Impassioned Speech

Is there anything about your post that is not pure fabrication? See, two can play at that game. Prove that you are not some anonymous russian robot.....

Concerned4Calif Oct 15, 2019 08:33 AM
An Impassioned Speech

We are not going to reduce carbon emissions and solve the climate problem until we address population growth. People should be free to have as many children as they can reasonably support but anything over two should come with a large carbon tax on the parents.

biguglystick Oct 15, 2019 12:01 PM
An Impassioned Speech

AMEN!!! You are 100% SPOT ON! Population is our biggest problem. And all the anti-abortion people out there now seem to be getting louder. We need birth control for ALL.

a-1571156666 Oct 15, 2019 09:24 AM
An Impassioned Speech

I wonder if the same people who want to try 13- 14 year old gangsters as adults are the same ones saying this 16 year old girl is too young to have any opinions of her own? Yeah, no way a 16 year old could have a passionate opinion about a global problem....

Flicka Oct 15, 2019 12:05 PM
An Impassioned Speech

Sure, critics make negative comments about a kid who wants a decent world for her generation and the next. I'm guessing they're climate deniers of the highest order. Restrictions have been lifted on coal companies and I read recently some have gone bankrupt (a good thing). Oil is not going to last forever, that is a fact, so we better come up with alternatives, climate deniers included.

biguglystick Oct 15, 2019 12:07 PM
An Impassioned Speech

I can't even believe all the climate denier comments in this thread!!! Where are you people coming from? Mars? Indiana? WTH!

a-1571183108 Oct 15, 2019 04:45 PM
An Impassioned Speech

Simply because someone doesn’t believe this child’s act, the parents pulling the strings or the billion dollar industry behind it, doesn’t mean they don’t believe humans are causing serious environmental damage to the earth. More humans = more damage. What this little girl doesn’t know because she has only experienced 16 years on this planet, are the great strides we have made to clean up our air, land and sea. There is more to be done, much more. But there is no way to accurately predict what will happen over the next 50 years. Mother Nature is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Only time will tell as technology and how we think of this planet evolve. Go back to school and play outside Greta. The world will still be here when you grow up.

a-1571183570 Oct 15, 2019 04:52 PM
An Impassioned Speech

4:45 - the "little girl" who you say can't think for herself is 16 years old. That's 2 years older than the 14 year old boy who stabbed someone and everyone was crying to have him tried as an adult and that he should have been shot, etc etc. Pick an age of majority and stick with it.

a-1571207262 Oct 15, 2019 11:27 PM
An Impassioned Speech

4:42 What does a 14 year old who stabbed someone have to do with my comment? I have no idea what you think the correlation is, but I don’t think a 14 year old involved in a stabbing should be tried as an adult. No child should be in an adult prison, and no child should be afraid or traumatized about the theory of accelerated climate change. There are more immediate threats like the lunatic running this country.

forrestmv18 Oct 16, 2019 08:25 AM
An Impassioned Speech

How progressive of you...folks from Indiana must be ignorant because, after all, we are woke and the smartest people on earth. I do not see any deniers in these comments. I do see people that believe the most complex and least understood problem imaginable is amenable to sound bites when these sound bites are mixed with religious fervor.

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