May 23, 2008 -- The more Democrats think they know about global warming, the more concerned they are. But Republicans who consider themselves well informed on the topic seem no more worried than those who profess ignorance, a study suggests.
When it comes to attitudes to global warming in the US, how knowledge translates into concern depends upon people's political views, and on whom they trust to provide information on climate change, say the political psychologists involved.
In February 2008, researchers at Texas A&M University in College Station published a survey suggesting that Americans who see themselves as well informed about global warming are actually less concerned than those who admit to knowing little Risk Analysis.
"Increased knowledge about global warming leads to apathy," stated a press release issued by the university at the time.
Trust in science
However, Jon Krosnick of Stanford University, California, who has previously worked with New Scientist to investigate US public attitudes towards policies to combat global warming, suspected the story may be more complicated.
So with his colleague Ariel Malka, Krosnick re-analysed polling data from Stanford surveys conducted in collaboration with ABC News, The Washington Post and Time magazine in 2006 and 2007.
Overall, Malka and Krosnick found that concern about global warming was greater among people who said they knew more about the subject. This was most marked for respondents who identified themselves as Democrats, and those who said they trusted scientists to provide reliable information on environmental issues.
For Republicans, and those who had little trust in scientists, more knowledge did not mean greater concern.
In part, this may reflect the different ways people get information about global warming. If your sources are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore, Krosnick suggests, the relationship between knowledge and concern is likely to be different than if your main sources are sceptical advocacy groups such as the Heartland Institute, and the conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.
Why did the Stanford and Texas A&M teams obtain such different results? Possibly because of differences between their questionnaires, says Krosnick.
For instance, the Texas team asked a series of questions relating to respondents' own well-being, and the likely impact of global warming on the state in which they live. The Stanford researchers asked broader questions about respondents' concern about climate change.
Arnold Vedlitz, a member of the Texas A&M team, says that more work is needed to fully understand the factors driving concern about global warming in the US. "This is a difficult and complex issue," he says.
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