Article | Published:

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

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 879884 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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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Affiliations

  1. Antioch University New England, Keene, New Hampshire 03431, USA

    • Kathryn L. Doherty
  2. Social and Environmental Research Institute, Northampton, Massachusetts 01060, USA

    • Kathryn L. Doherty
    •  & Thomas N. Webler

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kathryn L. Doherty.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3025

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