Commentary on “Seeing is Believing”

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Commentary on “Seeing is Believing”. Don Hine PhD Psychology University of New England. Seeing is Believing! (Experiential Learning). 4 Themes. Increased concern/belief In climate change. Direct experience of extreme weather events. And (hopefully!) adaptive responding. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

Text of Commentary on “Seeing is Believing”

Commentary on Seeing is Believing

Commentary on Seeing is BelievingDon Hine PhDPsychologyUniversity of New EnglandTo begin, Id just like to thank Joe for another excellent presentation. Ive listened to Joe speak before and have also worked closely with him on several projects.

And Ive always been impressed by his depth of understanding of the issues. I think he is one of the more well-read and thoughtful individuals working in the climate change risk perception area.

1Seeing is Believing!(Experiential Learning)4 Themes

Direct experience of extreme weather events.

Increased concern/beliefIn climate changeAnd (hopefully!)adaptive responding

Joe has presented some fairly intriguing evidence that our direct experiences with extreme weather events that we attribute to climate may play an important role in how we perceive and respond to climate change.

At the risk of oversimplifying the seeing is believing model goes something like this. 2Believing is Seeing!(Motivated Reasoning)4 Themes

Pre-existing belief in and concern about climate change

Attribution of disasters and extreme weather events to Climate ChangeBut of course, as Joe has acknowledged, thats just one way to view the data. A second possibility is that the actual relationship between experience and climate change concern runs in the opposite direction to that presented in the previous slide.

That is, direct experience extreme weather doesnt drive concern and adaptive responding to climate change. But rather our pre-existing beliefs about climate change acts as an interpretive lens that increases the likelihood that extreme weather will be taken as evidence that climate change is occuring.

We call this alternative casual model motivated reasoning. The basic idea is that we interpret events in a way that confirms or is consistent with our pre-existing beliefs.3Or Believing is NOT Seeing!(Motivated Reasoning)4 ThemesPre-existing skepticism or denial of human-induced climate change Natural disasters and extreme weather events are viewed as nothing out of the ordinary or attributed to other factors, 21-01-2012It is also important to note that motivated reasoning can work in two distinct directions. Concern about climate change can lead people to be more likely to view extreme weather events as evidence that climate change is occurring.

But what about those individuals who have pre-existing beliefs that global climate change is not actually occurring?

The motivated reasoning model suggests that these individuals will interpret extreme weather events as nothing out of the ordinary (e.g., recent headline from a US news website) or attribute those events to other factors (e.g., a conspiracy dreamt up by Al Gore, or measurement error linked to the location of temperature sensors near major cities and cities tend to be hotter than outlying areas, or attempts by climate scientists to secure more grant funding).

In other words, these extreme weather events are viewed through the lens of non-belief, leading people to interpret those events in a way that is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs that climate change is not occurring.

4Experiential Learning vsMotivated Reasoning Myers et al. (2012). The relationship between personal experience and belief in the reality of global warming. Nature Climate Change.SampleLongitudinal data (2008 and 2011)Nationally representative US sample

Main finding: Evidence to support both models.

Motivated reasoning occurs primarily amongst individuals who are highly engaged in climate change issues.

Experiential learning occurs primarily amongst individuals who are less engaged.

So there are at least two plausible models of perception operating: one based on experiential learning (seeing is believing) and the other based on motivated reasoning (where our perceptions are guided by our preexisting beliefs about climate change).

So which model is correct?

A recent study recently published in Nature Climate Change by Teresa Myers and her colleagues at George Mason University and Yale explicitly addressed this issue [Describe study.]5ImplicationsDepending on their prior beliefs about climate change, individuals will interpret their experiences with extreme weather events in different ways.

SegmentDominant ProcessResponse to Direct Experience MomentsAlarmed (engaged)Motivated ReasoningDirect experience has little impact on concern (remains high)

Highly Skeptical(engaged)Motivated ReasoningDirect experience has little impact on concern (remains low)

Less EngagedExperiential LearningDirect experience leads to increased concern.

Its worth noting that Joes group at Griffith has failed to replicate this effect. So it difficult to know how much faith we should put in these findings. For example, it could be that:

There are cross-cultural differences operating (perhaps not surprisingly to this audience, Australians are actually quite different to Americans in many ways).Alternatively maybe the effect is a chance finding and no one will be able to replicate it.

Indeed the whole issue of replicability is becoming a bit of a hot topic in the social sciences right now. One of the leading psychology journals, Psychological Science dedicated a whole special issue dedicated to the topic. There are lots of very intriguing findings that get published in very good journals but researchers in other labs have difficulty getting the same results.

Given these types of problems I think journals could be doing more to demonstrate that the papers they publish not only tell an interesting story, but also that the effects reported in these papers are robust, and can be replicated independently by other labs.

For example, there are several other research groups in North America, Europe, and Australia that have nationally representative data sets with very similar measures to the ones used by Myers and her colleagues . The Nature publishing group is very well resourced It would be nice to see them invite other research groups to write a short response indicating whether or not they were able find similar types effects in their own data. This would help prevent interesting single studies, that fail to replicate, drive policy responses.

6Conceptualizing extreme weather events as a type of fear appeal Fear Appeal Model

Motivation to take Protective ActionSeeing is Believing Model

Direct ExperienceConcern/Belief

Threat messageFear

Motivation to take Protective Action

A second thing that struck me as I read through Joes draft paper is that there are some potentially interesting similarities between the seeing is believing model and the psychological literature on fear appeals.

Indeed, I think you can conceptualize direct experience of an extreme weather event as a very vivid, highly engaging type of fear appeal but one that is not created by a marketing agency, but rather by nature. Its sort of natures way of saying something is going on here, you might want to take notice. 7

Is there anything that we can learn from the FEAR APPEALS literature to:

Better understand the nature of direct experience effects?

Transform extreme weather events into teachable moments that can help individuals and communities adapt more effectively to climate change?

So this leads to the question 8Are fear appeals effective? Messages designed to elicit FEAR can be a very effective strategy to change behavior, BUT only under certain conditions.Threat messages that focus exclusively on raising FEAR often elicit defensive reactions (fear control processes):

Message avoidanceMessage rejectionDenial of threat Witte & Allen (2000). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for public health campaigns. Health Education & Behavior.

First of all lets address the issue of whether fear appeals are actually effective.

Simply scaring people is not enough and can actually be counterproductive.

The idea here is that is that if you just scare people, theyll be more motivated to manage their fear as opposed to dealing effectively with the threat at hand. 9Factors that increase the effectiveness of FEAR messagingThe audience believes the threat is relevant to them.The message includes specific advice about how the audience can minimize or avoid the threat.The audience is convinced that recommended actions will be effective in reducing the threat (response efficacy).The audience is convinced that they can successfully engage in the recommended actions (self-efficacy).

In order to get fear appeals to work effectively you need something more than just fear.

[Read slide]

So eliciting Fear by itself doesnt tend to lead to good outcomes. However, eliciting fear while at the same providing individuals with credible strategies to deal with the threat tends to be much more effective. 10Implications for the Seeing is Believing ModelDirect experience with extreme weather events may increase concern about climate change (at least in some groups), but this does not guarantee that adaptive action will necessarily follow.

Motivation to take Protective ActionSeeing is Believing Model

Direct ExperienceConcern/Fear

?Results from the fear appeal literature suggest that although direct experience with extreme weather events may increase concern and fear about climate change, there is no guarantee that concern and fear will translate into people taking tangible action.

11A modified model?Danger Control ResponseFear Control Response

When people people experience a threat like a flood or a bush fire and become concerned or a