Political conservatives are particularly unwilling to accept the reality of climate change. Recent research reiterated this reluctance, and noted that it appears to stem from “worry about the economic and political ramifications of climate science,” rather than an inherent distrust of scientists.
In other words, the implications of a warming planet challenges their worldview, and they’re understandably resistant to revisit some of their most fundamental beliefs.
Much research suggests directly challenging people’s convictions often backfires, leading them to cling to “alternative facts” ever more strongly. But a new study points to a way around this dilemma.
It reports emphasizing the fact there is near-unanimity among climate scientists that climate change is both real and human-caused is a surprisingly effective way to get conservatives to shift their opinions.
“The vast majority of people want to conform to societal standards. It’s innate in us as a highly social species,” lead author Sander van der Linden, a University of Cambridge psychologist, said in announcing the findings. “People often misperceive social norms, and seek to adjust once they are exposed to evidence of a group consensus.”
In the journal Nature Human Behavior, van der Linden and his colleagues describe the results of “a large nationally representative online survey experiment” featuring 6,301 American adults. Confirming previous studies, they found a correlation between political conservatism and reduced acceptance of climate science—an association that was even stronger among highly educated right-wingers.
“We subsequently exposed half of the sample to a descriptive norm: ’97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening,'” they write. “We measured judgments of the consensus at the beginning of the survey and at the end, with various ‘distractors’ in between to obscure the purpose of the experiment.”
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Originally written by Tom Jacobs