Research Press Release

Belief is not just a matter of opinion

Nature Climate Change

February 3, 2015

Strategies for building support for climate change mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to improve the public’s understanding of science, reports a paper published online in Nature Climate Change. The study found that regarding human-induced climate change, the actions and beliefs of both sceptics and believers can be understood as integrated expressions of self, underpinning specific social identities.

Although there is a growing belief in the general public that climate change is real, there is a sharp division in beliefs about its causes, with many sceptical of human-induced change. Ana-Maria Bliuc and colleagues conducted an online survey of 120 climate change sceptics and 328 believers living in the US. They measured differences between the two groups in terms of environmental behaviours, emotional responses, national and global identification and a number of other variables.

They find that the contrasting opinions of believers and sceptics about the causes of climate change provide the basis of social identities that define who they are, what they stand for, and who they stand with (and against). In making up an aspect of self, these beliefs and emotional reactions can predict support for actions that advance the positions of each group.

The authors also note that part of the group consciousness of each group is anger at the opposing side. This suggests that antagonizing sceptics and increasing their anger towards their opponents is likely to polarize them further, making them more committed to taking contrary action. Together, these findings imply that divisions are unlikely to be overcome by education strategies alone. The authors suggest that encouraging believers and discouraging sceptics about the likely outcome of their groups’ efforts is a more effective way to achieve consensus.

In an accompanying News & Views, Tom Postmes states that “The results of Bliuc et al. show that future research and theorizing can make a major advance by reducing this kind of polarization, in which two social movements go head-to-head: understanding group dynamics will help to change beliefs about climate change.”



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