How do people update? The effects of local weather fluctuations on beliefs about global warming
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Global warming has become a controversial public policy issue in spite of broad scientific consensus that it is real and that human activity is a contributing factor. It is likely that public consensus is also needed to support policies that might counteract it. It is therefore important to understand how people form and update their beliefs about climate change. Using unique survey data on beliefs about the occurrence of the effects of global warming, I estimate how local temperature fluctuations influence what individuals believe about these effects. I find that some features of the updating process are consistent with rational updating. I also test explicitly for the presence of several heuristics known to affect belief formation and find strong evidence for representativeness, some evidence for availability, and no evidence for spreading activation. I find that very short-run temperature fluctuations (1 day–2 weeks) have no effect on beliefs about the occurrence of global warming, but that longer-run fluctuations (1 month–1 year) are significant predictors of beliefs. Only respondents with a conservative political ideology are affected by temperature abnormalities.
KeywordsGlobal Warming Political Ideology Spreading Activation Local Weather Answer Category
I am very grateful to Amy Finkelstein and Michael Greenstone for invaluable discussions and extensive feedback. I thank Stefano DellaVigna for insightful suggestions, and Jason Abaluck, Jerry Hausman, Dan Keniston, Randall Lewis, Anna Mikusheva, Mar Reguant-Rido, Joseph Shapiro, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments. I acknowledge the financial support of the MIT Energy Initiative, the MIT Shultz Fund, and the National Science Foundation.
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