When It Comes To Climate Change, Biases Affect Everyone

Apr 16, 2021

Climate change impacts wildfire, drought, and storms across the globe.
Credit Left - Mellimage/Shutterstock.com, center - Montree Hanlue/Shutterstock.com, right - NASA

A new study finds that liberals and conservatives not only hold different beliefs about climate change, but they also pay attention to different aspects of it.

Jiaying Zhao, an associate psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, said people are biased toward certain types of information depending on their beliefs.

For example, researchers tracked eye movement while participants looked at a global temperature graph.

"Liberal individuals tend to pay attention to, for instance, the increasing global temperature when you look at a global temperature graph from NASA, whereas conservative individuals tend to look at the flatter face of the temperature curve," she said.

Zhao said that means to combat climate change, scientists need different messaging tools for different audiences.

"You simply can't use the same approach, for instance, tell the public, '2020 was the hottest year in history, tied with 2016,'" she said. "That information is going to draw the attention of liberals but it's not going to get the attention of conservatives."

For conservatives, Zhao said the focus should be on the economy, the cost of climate change, and preservation for future generations.

But she said overall, everyone tends to underestimate the carbon footprint of daily actions, like a ten minute drive to work. In order to address that bias, Zhao said we need to make carbon price tags more transparent and accessible.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.