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From incremental to transformative adaptation in individual responses to climate-exacerbated hazards


Building societal resilience to climate change depends on increased adaptation. In this Review of scholarship on behavioural adaptation, we find that most empirical studies focus on the affective and cognitive drivers of behaviours with largely private benefits. Few examine behaviours with collective benefits or explore the moderating role of social factors on affective and cognitive cues. We point to cultural evolution and complex adaptive systems as frameworks that can improve our understanding of behaviours that lead to greater societal resilience in the long term. Integrating such research traditions with the socio-psychological perspectives that dominate the literature will ensure that future studies better distinguish the drivers of incremental coping from transformative adaptation.

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Fig. 1: Number of interpersonal and intrapersonal factors researched in reviewed empirical paper.
Fig. 2: Proportion of reviewed papers investigating the collective versus private benefits of adaptation.
Fig. 3: Typology of adaptation behaviours.


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We thank P. Stern and E. Weber for their insights during an early review of the paper prior to submission.

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R.S.W. and A.H. developed the original outline for the paper. R.S.W., A.H., M.H. and J.S.B. contributed equally to the final literature review and writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Robyn S. Wilson.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Morgan Scoville-Simonds and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Wilson, R.S., Herziger, A., Hamilton, M. et al. From incremental to transformative adaptation in individual responses to climate-exacerbated hazards. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 200–208 (2020).

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