Understanding intuitive theories of climate change

Brittany Schotsch, Derek Powell

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


There is a pressing need to inform the public and drive personal and political action to mitigate climate change. Recent theorizing suggests that people's intuitive theories may be key levers for affecting attitude and behavior change (Weisman & Markman, 2017). We asked 400 participants to estimate the probability of different future events related to climate change. Our findings indicate that people hold coherent theories of climate change, that these theories were predictive of policy positions, and that they varied across individuals and across partisan groups. In particular, political independents and Republicans's causal models underestimated the impacts of climate change. We also examined an educational intervention that explains a key mechanism of climate change (Ranney & Clark, 2016). Unfortunately, while the intervention increased mechanistic knowledge, it did not affect participants' beliefs about climate outcomes. Nevertheless, the coherence of participants' intuitive theories gives hope that other educational interventions could have meaningful and systematic effects on policy attitudes and political behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2022
Event44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Cognitive Diversity, CogSci 2022 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: Jul 27 2022Jul 30 2022


Conference44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Cognitive Diversity, CogSci 2022


  • Bayesian models
  • Behavioral interventions
  • Causal reasoning
  • Intuitive theories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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