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Your opinion on climate change might not be as common as you think

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 334337 (2013) | Download Citation


Political and media debate on the existence and causes of climate change has become increasingly factious in several western countries, often resting on claims and counter-claims about what most citizens really think. There are several well-established phenomena in psychology about how people perceive the prevalence of opinions, including the false consensus effect1 (a tendency to overestimate how common one’s ‘own’ opinion is) and pluralistic ignorance2 (where most people privately reject an opinion, but assume incorrectly that most others accept it). We investigated these biases in people’s opinions about the existence and causes of climate change. In two surveys conducted 12 months apart in Australia (n = 5,036; n = 5,030), respondents were asked their own opinion about the nature of climate change, and then asked to estimate levels of opinion among the general population. We demonstrate that opinions about climate change are subject to strong false consensus effects, that people grossly overestimate the numbers of people who reject the existence of climate change in the broader community, and that people with high false consensus bias are less likely to change their opinions.

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Research for this paper was financially supported by the CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship.

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  1. CSIRO, Ecosystem Sciences, Perth, Western Australia 6913, Australia

    • Z. Leviston
    •  & I. Walker
  2. Dresden University of Technology, 01062 Dresden, Germany

    • S. Morwinski


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Z.L. designed the studies, coordinated data collection, analysed the data and wrote the paper. I.W. contributed to all aspects of the paper, including project planning, study design, statistical analysis, and writing and revisions. S.M. contributed to the writing and revisions of this paper.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Z. Leviston.

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