Social norms and efficacy beliefs drive the Alarmed segment’s public-sphere climate actions


Surprisingly few individuals who are highly concerned about climate change take action to influence public policies. To assess social-psychological and cognitive drivers of public-sphere climate actions of Global Warming’s Six Americas ‘Alarmed’ segment, we developed a behaviour model and tested it using structural equation modelling of survey data from Vermont, USA (N = 702). Our model, which integrates social cognitive theory, social norms research, and value belief norm theory, explains 36–64% of the variance in five behaviours. Here we show descriptive social norms, self-efficacy, personal response efficacy, and collective response efficacy as strong driving forces of: voting, donating, volunteering, contacting government officials, and protesting about climate change. The belief that similar others took action increased behaviour and strengthened efficacy beliefs, which also led to greater action. Our results imply that communication efforts targeting Alarmed individuals and their public actions should include strategies that foster beliefs about positive descriptive social norms and efficacy.

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Figure 1: Most recent ‘Global Warming’s Six Americas’ segments in March 201550.
Figure 2: Theoretical model of public-sphere climate action.
Figure 3: Differences in efficacy and descriptive social norms constructs between Alarmed individuals who contacted government officials in the 12 months preceding survey and those who did not contact officials.


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We would like to thank A. Leiserowitz and C. Saunders for the guidance they provided during this project. We also thank P. Stern and R. Brulle for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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K.L.D. conceived, designed, and implemented the research project, including survey development and administration and data collection and analysis/interpretation. T.N.W. provided advice on research design and survey development. K.L.D. wrote the manuscript with input from T.N.W.

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Correspondence to Kathryn L. Doherty.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Doherty, K., Webler, T. Social norms and efficacy beliefs drive the Alarmed segment’s public-sphere climate actions. Nature Clim Change 6, 879–884 (2016).

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