10 Psychological Insights That Will Improve Your Climate Communications
Why aren’t more people concerned about or actively fighting climate change? A big reason is human psychology.
A new article in Grist points out 10 qualities of human nature that can cause people to tune out or downplay climate messages. For example, people don’t respond to threats that seem distant or abstract, they tend to follow the herd (especially when it comes to complicated issues), and they are more likely to take action if they know exactly what their actions will accomplish.
The author’s advice is very much aligned with what we’ve learned through our own research. To connect with your audience and make your message resonate:
- Explain how people are already being impacted by climate change
- Use concrete, local examples to make impacts real and relevant
- Help people understand which individual climate behaviors make the greatest difference
- Show how climate-friendly behaviors are becoming the social norm
For more about these and other communication tips, download our report: Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication.
By Lisa Bennett, contributor to Grist
I’ve spent nearly a decade thinking about why people get stuck on climate change: stuck in debates, denial, what looks like indifference, and the awful discomfort that comes with the question “But what can I do?”
In search of answers, I’ve interviewed dozens of experts in psychology, neuroscience, sociology, economics, political science, and other fields — and many more Americans across a broad spectrum of political affiliations, income brackets, and ages. I’ve also read widely to tap the thinking of those who were once more commonly looked to for insights into human nature, such as poets, philosophers, and spiritual leaders.
What I’ve come up with is my own climate-centric version of Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Climate change has been my window into learning about human nature — or, at least, about what we humans do when faced with a challenge much greater than ourselves. The experience has also persuaded me that a better understanding of our own nature can help inspire a more effective response to what is happening to the natural world.
Here then are 10 things I’ve learned, along with some ideas about how these insights might be applied by those working on climate change:
1. We are overly optimistic about the future — our future, that is.
Neuroscientist Tali Sharot has observed that when newlyweds are asked about their chances of getting divorced, they tend to say zero, despite the widely known fact that the odds are 50-50. We instinctively overestimate the probability of positive events and underestimate the probability of negative events in our own lives, she writes in The Optimism Bias, for two reasons: We think we have more control over our lives than we actually do, and we tend to see ourselves as better than average.
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