Psychological Barriers Could Prevent Reactions to Climate Change

Global warming is an issue receiving much attention as of late. Despite the overwhelming following of this concept, it still generates significant debate within the scientific field. At the same time, many Americans have jumped on the climate change bandwagon, but not everyone is buying into the requirement to “buy green.”

Policymakers and marketers need to understand the psychological barriers to change and what will cause a person to take action. According to a task force of the American Psychological Association, a keen understanding of this area will help in the design of more effective marketing campaigns.

A recent Science Daily piece noted scientific evidence shows the main influences of climate change are behavioral – population growth and energy consumption. “What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior,” said task force chair Janet Swim, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University, in Science Daily. “We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act.”

APA’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change examined a national Pew Research Center poll which found 75 percent to 80 percent of respondents indicated climate change was an important issue. At the same time, respondents ranked it last in a list of 20 compelling issues.

The task force points to specific psychological barriers that block an individual’s reaction to climate change, including uncertainty; mistrust; denial; undervaluing risks; lack of control; and habit.

“Many of the shortcomings of policies based on only a single intervention type, such as technology, economic incentives or regulation, may be overcome if policy implementers make better use of psychological knowledge,” the task force wrote in the report.

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