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Poster D128

Misperceptions of impact predict intentions to take action against climate change

Poster Session D - Monday, April 15, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Alyssa Sinclair1 (, José Carreras-Tartak1, Danielle Cosme1, Taurean Butler1, Heather Kostick1,2, Michael Mann1, Emily Falk1; 1University of Pennsylvania, 2Drexel University

To mitigate climate change, we must encourage individuals to take action in ways that are impactful. In two studies, we investigated the cognitive and social factors that predict climate-related behavioral intentions. In Study 1, 60 participants identified actions to address climate change that they believed to be impactful, feasible, or socially-desirable. Participants tended to generate relatively ineffective actions (e.g., recycling), rarely generating ideas that experts have identified as more effective (e.g., voting, driving less, flying less). Expanding on these qualitative findings, in Study 2, we recruited 300 participants across the adult lifespan to rate 25 actions on several dimensions (e.g., intentions, ease, capability, impact, social approval) informed by the Theory of Planned Behavior. We compared perceived impact (in terms of climate change mitigation) of each action with objective impact (estimated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions). Perceived impact was positively correlated with objective impact, but participants substantially overestimated the impact of reduce-reuse-recycle actions and underestimated the impact of actions related to transportation and green energy. Importantly, perceived impact was a stronger predictor of behavioral intentions than ratings of ease, capability, or social desirability, highlighting the critical role of correcting these misperceptions. Our results reveal that perceived impact is miscalibrated, yet predicts behavioral intentions. In ongoing work, we are testing cognitive interventions to correct misperceptions of impact (e.g., by engaging neural systems for learning from prediction error and episodic simulation). Our findings suggest that generally motivating climate action is insufficient; interventions must also correct misperceptions to direct individuals toward impactful actions.

Topic Area: THINKING: Decision making


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