Climatic Change

, Volume 149, Issue 3–4, pp 335–347 | Cite as

Assessing the relative importance of psychological and demographic factors for predicting climate and environmental attitudes

  • Liam F. Beiser-McGrath
  • Robert A. Huber


In this paper, we seek to identify robust predictors of individuals’ attitudes towards climate change and environmental degradation. While much of the extant literature has been devoted to the individual explanatory potential of individuals’ characteristics, we focus on the extent to which these characteristics provide robust predictions of climate and environmental attitudes. Thereby, we adjudicate the relative predictive power of psychological and sociodemographic characteristics, as well as the predictive power of combinations of these attributes. To do so, we use a popular machine learning technique, Random Forests, on three surveys fielded in China, Switzerland, and the USA, using a variety of outcome variables. We find that a psychological construct, the consideration of future consequences (CFC) scale, performs well in predicting attitudes, across all contexts and better than traditional explanations of climate attitudes, such as income and education. Given recent advances suggesting potential psychological barriers of behavioural change Public (Weaver, Adm Rev 75:806–816, 2015) and the use of psychological constructs to target persuasive messages (Abrahamse et al., J Environ Psychol 265–276, 2007; Hirsh et al., Psychol Sci 23:578–581, 2012), identifying important predictors, such as the CFC may allow to better understand public’s appetite for climate and environmental policies and increase demand for these policies, in an area where existing efforts have shown to be lacking (Bernauer and McGrath, Nat Clim Chang 6:680–683, 2016; Chapman et al., Nat Clim Chang 7:850–852, 2017).



We are grateful to the comments and suggestions by two anonymous reviewers and the editors that have greatly improved this manuscript. We would like to thank Thomas Bernauer for his contribution to the data collection in the China, Switzerland, and the US. We also thank Brilé Anderson for her contribution to the data collection in Switzerland. We would also like to thank Dennis Atzenhofer and Michael Hudecheck for their research assistance and the Strassenverkehrsamt Zürich for the cooperation throughout the data collection in Zurich.

Funding Information

The research for this article was funded by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance’ (Grant: 295456) and supported by ETH Zürich.

Supplementary material

10584_2018_2260_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (211 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Postdoctoral Researcher, ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.PhD Candidate, ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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