To Change Behavior on Climate Change, First Learn Key Psychological Lessons

By path2positive

Health professionals, for good reason, are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on our families, health and future. We know that action is critical. We know what we need to do. But public engagement on climate issues in the U.S. remains quite low. So how do we change people's behavior? This critical question is addressed in a new peer-reviewed article by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. According to the article, "Mounting evidence from across the behavioral sciences has found that most people regard climate change as a nonurgent and psychologically distant risk—spatially, temporally, and socially—which has led to deferred public decision making about mitigation and adaptation responses." The article offers five key insights from psychological science to help governments improve public policymaking about climate change. Incidentally, these five lessons (noted below) are also useful in thinking about how we frame our conversations with peers and patients.

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

November 18, 2015

Dear Friends,
We are pleased to announce the publication of a new peer-reviewed article:
van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., & Leiserowitz, A. (2015) Improving public engagement with climate change: Five “best practice” insights form psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 1-6. DOI: 10.1177/1745691615598516
President Obama recently signed an executive order encouraging the federal government to use insights from behavioral science to better serve the American people. In this paper, we distill years of psychological research to identify five lessons that policy-makers can use to engage the general public on the issue of climate change and promote public support for climate policies:

  1. The human brain privileges experience over analysis
  2. People are social beings who respond to group norms
  3. Out of sight, out of mind: Reduce psychological distance
  4. Framing the big picture: Nobody like losing but everyone likes gaining
  5. Playing the long-game: Tapping the potential of human motivation 

The open-access article is part of a special Perspectives on Psychological Science Issue showcasing how psychological science can inform public policy-making. The research was co-funded by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, NSF, and NASA.
We hope you find it helpful!


Anthony Leiserowitz, Ph.D.
Director, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University


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