Helping the Earth Through Understanding Human Psychology

How do people take in information about how humans affect the Earth? What influences the decisions they make and the perspectives they accept? Journal articles and video of psychological scientists talking with the Dalai Lama show how psychological science can help us create a healthier planet.

How Human Decisions Impact the Earth

Elke Weber, Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University, and other behavioral and environmental scientists discussed decision-making and the environment with the Dalai Lama at the 23rd Mind and Life Meeting in Dharamsala, India in November 2011.

Popular Consensus: Climate Change Is Set to Continue

While most climate scientists agree that the global climate is changing, members of the general public do not perceive the same level of risk that the experts do. One reason for this difference could be the manner in which lay people are interpreting climate data. To test how people would extrapolate information from climate data, 200 participants were presented with a graph that was labeled either as climate data or as stock share prices. When the participants were asked to predict three future data points from the graph, they predicted conservative increases regardless of how the data was labeled or whether the volunteers believed in climate change. This result suggests that even though people make an initial judgment using their beliefs, they will adjust those beliefs when data is presented to them.

Popular Consensus : Climate Change Is Set to Continue
Stephan Lewandowsky, Psychological Science, April 2011

Some People’s Climate Beliefs Shift With Weather

Study shows daily malleability on a long-term question

Social scientists are struggling with a perplexing earth-science question: As the power of evidence showing man-made global warming is rising, why do opinion polls suggest public belief in the findings is wavering? Part of the answer may be that some people are too easily swayed by the easiest, most irrational piece of evidence at hand: their own estimation of the day’s temperature.

In three separate studies, researchers affiliated with Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) surveyed about 1,200 people in the United States and Australia, and 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.

Local Warming : Daily Temperature Change Influences Belief in Global Warming
Ye Li, Eric J. Johnson, and Lisa Zaval, Psychological Science, April 2011

Dire Messages about Global Warming Can Backfire, New Study Shows

Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people’s fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming,” said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study published in Psychological Science.

Apocalypse Soon?: Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs
Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer, Psychological Science, January 2011 Lewandowsky, S. (2011). Popular Consensus: Climate Change Is Set to Continue Psychological Science, 22 (4), 460-463 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611402515


I stumbled to this site after doing some of the cognitive exercises and I’m glad I did. I find it refreshing to see people discussing these most important topics. Being in my mid-twenties, I find that the focus of mainstream society is completely misled, so this discussion means a lot to me. Right now all over the world there are social and economical problems that I believe are waking people up and bringing these kinds of topics to the surface. There are a number of social movements going on that I want to mention. Movements like Open Source Ecology and The Venus Project and the very controversial Zeitgeist Movement. I think the Venus Project is a great vision of the future and offers very intelligent and practical solutions for many problems, including clean energy. I think some of the main blockages today as discussed in the video are consumerism and the social structure, esp. in America, that emphasizes material goods and self-centeredness, and even downplays the roles of science, physics, psychology, and just good education in general. Anyway, I mainly just wanted to bring these movements to your attention, you may already be aware of them, but thank you for sharing your discussion, and thank you to his holiness the Dalai Lama for showing an interest in science 🙂 and elaborating on these difficult and important topics.

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