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MPSA climate change panel: report & slides

On Friday I was on a Midwest Political Science Association panel on public opinion & climate change. I presented Tragedy of the Risk Perceptions Commons (slides here). 

Michael Tesler presented interesting data that he argued show that elite rhetoric and not motivated cognition accounts for political divisions on climate change. I have a hard time conjuring the psychological model that would see the two operating independently of each other; to me they are not discrete mechanisms, but steps in a process (elite cues help create/transmit the meanings that then motivate cognition for ordinary individuals) & I wasn't sure exactly how the data supported the inference, but I'm eager to see the write up, at which point I'll either get it or explain why I don't think he is right!

Alexandra Bass presented data on media content to show that values influence climate change perceptions. The presentation was great. But I have to say I don't really get media-content studies in general; they seem to draw inferences the validity of which depend on the ratio of frequency of content to frequency of events in the world--something for which the analyses never present any data. I didn't get a chance, though, to read Bass's paper, so I will, & see if that helps me.

Mathew Nowlin, a member of Hank Jenkins-Smith's amazing risk-perception group at theCenter for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma, presented a cool paper on education, climate change knowledge, and politcal polarization.

Finally, Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo backed data out of the American National Election Study to support the hypothesis that "core political values"-- "such as equality"-- "are an important predictor of climate change attitudes, beyond other standard determinants of political attitudes, like partisanship or ideology." I found the cliam convincing, but I was admittedly predisposed to believe it.

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Reader Comments (4)

Dan, I read your paper. Been awhile since I have read this level of paper so excuse me if I misinterpret. Could the differences found between the EC and HI groups be the result of differences in System 1 and System 2 thinking? (or some other uknown processing). Given PIT unsupported; the gap between EC and HI grows but perhaps mainly because of the neg correlation from the HI group (guessing)? It would seem to me to expect an increased corrleation with the EC group, while the HI group is more impacted by "cognitive processing factors" than the EC. Make some sense, or am I confused? (which would not surprise me) I imagine a whole collection of things that could influence the problem, and that you may not even see the root let alone believe one exists!
Good stuff... hopefully connecting up some old neurons in my brain that have been left idol.

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Seibert

Hi, Dave.

These are good questions. Indeed, they go to the heart of the ongoing research of which this study is a part.

1. The numeracy scale we used is a pretty good indicator of the disposition/capacity to engage in System 2 reasoning. As you saw, we formed a composite scale with numeracy & science literacy, because they are highly correlated but the results are the same when either scale is used on its own too. (Interestingly, education doesn't cohere so well with numeracy and science literacy; that suggests that science literacy & numeracy are both picking up some common aptitude that isn't simply a consequence of education).

2. The differences in the risk perceptions of individuals of varying cultural worldviews is not meaningfully connected to differences in the System 1/2 dispositions (as measured by numeracy) of the two groups. There is a weak positive correlation between hierarchy & numeracy (r = 0.14) and an even weaker negative one with individualism (r= - 0.07). Subjects whose worldview scores are relatively hierarchical and individualistic are slightly more numerate than ones whose worldview scores are relatively egalitiarian communitarian. But as I said, these differences explain essentially none of the variance in the groups' risk perceptions. If you look at SI Table 3, you can see that in a regression output that controls for numeracy & science literacy, the impact of the cultural worldview scores is quite large.

3. The disposition to use system 2 reasoning, however, *is* associated with greater cultural polarization. Thus, subjects with the competing worldviews who use system 2 more readily (who are more numerate) hold the most extremely opposed views.

4. We suggest in the paper that this result reflects the greater facility that subjects w/ higher system 2 processing capabilities have to fit their understanding of empirical data to their cultural predispositions. That is, in fact, the primary hypothesis that the ongoing studies, which are funded by the NSF, are testing. The correlations in this study are consistent with the hypothesis -- and strongly inconsistent with the alternative hypothesis that cultural cognition is a consequence of system 1 reasoning -- but we are now conducting experimental tests that aim to "catch" motivated system 2 reasoning "in the act," as it were.

I actually did a blog post a while back that registered my dismay at how quickly people who've read Kahneman's "Thinking Fast, Slow" book are to attribute conflict over climate change to "fast" system 1. That inference itself reflects a bit too much system 1, I think...


April 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Would I be in error to say that perhaps Sys1 thinking is more linear while Sys2 is circular (holistic) thus the easier for sys2 thinking to "grasp" (draw into its being) and thus become more easily polarized due to a deeper cognitive (connected) understanding? Or is that a stretch to esoteric? :-)
***Everyone creates a world for their self and lives in it, imprisoned by
one's ignorance ~ Nisargadatta

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Seibert

Dave-- I think that's a plausible surmise: that the reasoning capacity associated with system 2 enables people to "explain away" nonconforming evidence & thus become even more confident etc. The sorts of experiments we are now doing don't involve a dynamic like that. But now that you put things the way you have, I can actually envision an interesting way to test this idea. There are really cool experimental designs that identify the mental processes by which people root out uncertainty and ambiguity -- which most people find very uncomfortable. I think on your view, we'd expect those processes to be *stronger* in people who are disposed to use system 2 reasoning. That's not an obvious thing to expect by any means -- yet what you are saying does, as I said, seem plausible. I'll mention this to someone who does research in this area & see what he says.

April 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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