Knowledge Helps: Mechanistic Information and Numeric Evidence as Cognitive Levers to Overcome Stasis and Build Public Consensus on Climate Change

Abstract

A clear, growing consensus indicates an urgent need for humans to reduce the burgeoning effects of global climate change (“global warming” or GW). Apt public instruction seems central to achieving critical behavioral changes, but some researchers suggest that U.S. climate attitudes are doomed to cognitive stasis (i.e., that little will be gained by educating the public). Herein are four studies that counter the stasis view. Our laboratory has previously reported findings that (1) virtually no Americans know the basic climate change mechanism, yet it (2) is quickly learned (in a few minutes, e.g., with a 400-word text), which (3) increases climate change acceptance. Below, Studies 1 and 4 replicate and extend these results to demonstrate (a) efficacy with an online presentation and broader populations and (b) retention up to a month after learning the mechanism. Studies 2-4 explore roles for germane numerical information using estimation with feedback. Study 2 shows that (d) misleading, cherry-picked, statistics can decrease climate change acceptance (and shake metacognition), while Studies 3 and 4 show that (e) surprising scientific information must be presented with care for it to foster beliefs in line with climate science’s consensus. In sum, contrary to unnecessarily pessimistic (and correlational) "stasis" arguments, highly germane science information can clearly change the public’s understandings and opinions.


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