Public Understanding of Climate Change in the United States
American Psychologist, 66(4), 315-328, May-June, 2011
14 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2013
Date Written: May 2011
This article considers scientific and public understandings of climate change and addresses the following question: Why is it that while scientific evidence has accumulated to document global climate change and scientific opinion has solidified about its existence and causes, U.S. public opinion has not and has instead become more polarized? Our review supports a constructivist account of human judgment. Public understanding is affected by the inherent difficulty of understanding climate change, the mismatch between people's usual modes of understanding and the task, and, particularly in the United States, a continuing societal struggle to shape the frames and mental models people use to understand the phenomena. We conclude by discussing ways in which psychology can help to improve public understanding of climate change and link a better understanding to action.
Keywords: climate change perception, expert–novice differences, mental models, risk perception
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