Thursday, 16 January 2014

Belief in global warming – going up and down

There are a couple of things about global warming we can be pretty certain about: in Australia where it’s hot belief in it is going up and in the United States where it’s freezing it is going down. An article How warm days increase belief in global warming published in the journal Nature Climate Change explores the local warming effect shown in earlier research such as the 2010 paper Local Warming – Daily Temperature Change Influences Belief in Global Warming which established that although people are quite aware of global warming, their beliefs about it may be malleable;
specifically, their beliefs may be constructed in response to questions about global warming. Beliefs may reflect irrelevant but salient information, such as the current day’s temperature. This replacement of a more complex, less easily accessed judgment with a simple, more accessible one is known as attribute substitution. In three studies, we asked residents of the United States and Australia to report their opinions about global warming and whether the temperature on the day of the study was warmer or cooler than usual. Respondents who thought that day was warmer than usual believed more in and had greater concern about global warming than did respondents who thought that day was colder than usual. They also donated more money to a global-warming charity if they thought that day seemed warmer than usual.
The abstract for How warm days increase belief in global warming argues that although previous research has demonstrated that the local warming effect occurs, studies have yet to explain why or how temperature abnormalities influence global warming attitude.
A better understanding of the underlying psychology of this effect can help explain the public’s reaction to climate change and inform approaches used to communicate the phenomenon. Across five studies, we find evidence of attribute substitution, whereby individuals use less relevant but available information (for example, today’s temperature) in place of more diagnostic but less accessible information (for example, global climate change patterns) when making judgements. Moreover, we rule out alternative hypotheses involving climate change labelling and lay mental models. Ultimately, we show that present temperature abnormalities are given undue weight and lead to an overestimation of the frequency of similar past events, thereby increasing belief in and concern for global warming.
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