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May 27, 2011

Study Finds Local Temperature Influences Belief in Global Warming

Columbia Business School’s Center for Decision Sciences’ study depicts how beliefs on global warming are mistakenly influenced by daily temperature


NEW YORK May 27, 2011  — A study by Columbia Business School Professor Eric Johnson, co-director of the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia Business School, Ye Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Decision Sciences, and Lisa Zaval, a Columbia graduate student in psychology, found that those who thought the current day was warmer than usual were more likely to believe in and feel concern about global warming than those who thought the day was unusually cold. The study, recently featured in Psychological Science, explains why public belief in global warming can fluctuate, since people can base their thinking off of the day’s temperature. The researchers behind this study are also affiliated with Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, CRED (www.cred.columbia.edu/).

The team surveyed about 1,200 people in the United States and Australia in three different studies in order to determine their opinions about global warming and whether the temperature on the day of the study was warmer or cooler than usual. Respondents who thought that day was warmer than usual were more concerned about global warming than respondents who thought that day was colder than usual.

“Global warming is so complex, it appears some people are ready to be persuaded by whether their own day is warmer or cooler than usual, rather than think about whether the entire world is becoming warmer or cooler,” said lead author Ye Li. “It is striking that society has spent so much money, time and effort educating people about this issue, yet people are still so easily influenced.” 

The study also revealed that respondents were fairly good at knowing if it was unusually hot or cold — perceptions correlated with reality three quarters of the time. While politics, gender and age all had the predicted influences — for instance, on the researchers’ 1–to–4 scale of belief in global warming, Democrats were 1.5 points higher than Republicans — after controlling for the other factors, the researchers found that perceived temperatures still had nearly two-thirds the power as political belief, and six times the power as gender.

These results join a growing body of work that shows how irrelevant environmental information, such as the current weather, can affect judgments and opinions on climate change.

 

About Columbia Business School

Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School is at the forefront of management education for a rapidly changing world. The school’s cutting-edge curriculum bridges academic theory and practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset to recognize and capture opportunity in a competitive business environment. Beyond academic rigor and teaching excellence, the school offers programs that are designed to give students practical experience making decisions in real-world environments. The school offers MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA) degrees, as well as non-degree Executive Education programs. For more information, visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.

About Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)

The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions is an interdisciplinary center that studies individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and in the face of environmental risk. CRED’s objectives address the human responses to climate change and climate variability as well as improved communication and increased use of scientific information on climate variability and change. Located at Columbia University, it is affiliated with The Earth Institute and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. For more information, visit www.cred.columbia.edu/.