Article | Published:

How warm days increase belief in global warming

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 143147 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Climate change judgements can depend on whether today seems warmer or colder than usual, termed the local warming effect. Although previous research has demonstrated that this effect occurs, studies have yet to explain why or how temperature abnormalities influence global warming attitudes. A better understanding of the underlying psychology of this effect can help explain the public’s reaction to climate change and inform approaches used to communicate the phenomenon. Across five studies, we find evidence of attribute substitution, whereby individuals use less relevant but available information (for example, today’s temperature) in place of more diagnostic but less accessible information (for example, global climate change patterns) when making judgements. Moreover, we rule out alternative hypotheses involving climate change labelling and lay mental models. Ultimately, we show that present temperature abnormalities are given undue weight and lead to an overestimation of the frequency of similar past events, thereby increasing belief in and concern for global warming.

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Acknowledgements

This research has been supported by the NIA grant 5R01AG027934 and the NSF IGERT grant 0903551. We thank members of the Preferences as Memories Lab, the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, J. Logg, T. Higgins, Y. Li and A. Gneezy for helpful comments; J. Westfall, C. Kim and S. Baum for technical support in running the studies; and M. Sisco and N. Lowhim for research assistance.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Lisa Zaval
    •  & Elke U. Weber
  2. Center for Decision Sciences, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Lisa Zaval
    • , Eric J. Johnson
    •  & Elke U. Weber
  3. Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Lisa Zaval
    •  & Elke U. Weber
  4. Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

    • Elizabeth A. Keenan

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Contributions

L.Z. and E.A.K. designed studies 1 and 3b. L.Z., E.A.K. and E.U.W. designed studies 2, 3a and 4. L.Z. and E.A.K. analysed the data. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript. E.U.W. and E.J.J. supervised the project.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lisa Zaval.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2093

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