Study: Beliefs About Global Warming Can Be Influenced

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The rise in temperature is both a condition of global warming as well as a state of mind, according to a study by researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago who say that experts should consider other evidence in addition to scientific data when discussing the changing climate.

Clayton Critcher, assistant professor of marketing in the Haas School of Business, and Jane Risen, assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, co-authored the study published Jan. 17 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which found a connection between whether a person feels warmer - due to high temperatures outside or a heated room - and if they believe more in the effects of global warming.

The researchers began the study after a 2010 Gallup poll revealed that although citizens have more information about climate changes, 48 percent believed the effects of global warming are exaggerated.

In the study, the researchers established the "visceral state" as a new basic judgment and decision-making principle - an instinctive feeling that influences one's judgment under various conditions.

"People will judge a condition or experience in the world based on what they are experiencing at the time," Critcher said.

While standing outside or in a heated room, 184 Cornell University students were asked to complete a questionnaire containing social and political questions about current issues, including an embedded question about global warming, which they could rate on a scale of one to 10. The study revealed that in warmer conditions, whether inside or outside, the participants' belief in global warming increased by one point.

"The experiment indicated it was the experience of heat, not information, in the survey that made people believe there is a global warming effect," Critcher said. "It is important for people in academics to consider the possibility that there may be other roots that are more intuitive that impact what someone believes or does not believe."

Anthony Fisher, chairman and a professor of agricultural and resource economics in UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, said the public is confused because of contradictory claims about global warming. He said he is not sure what scientists would do with a study like Critcher's but that he does agree that a different way of conveying information might be helpful.

"It's not a new scientific finding," he said. "Anything that narrows the gap between science and the general public is bound to improve the quality of the decisions that people make."

Several scientists said they agree that there are as many people who believe global warming is a concern as there are that believe media hype is the problem. However, they added that there is no consensus about what is the best way to give the public information that is accurate and easier to understand.

Dr. William Patzert, a climatologist who has worked at the California Institute of Technology's NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 28 years said that not enough facts were presented in the study and that participants were influenced by feelings.

"I come down on the side of fact rather than the feel-great-issue of the 21st century," Patzert said. "I am a true believer about global warming, but based on the facts."

He added, though, that feelings and brain chemistry are factors that should be taken into consideration when discussing hot-button issues.


Contact Theresa Adams at [email protected]

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