A national, representative survey of the U.S. public found that Americans have moderate climate change risk perceptions, strongly support a variety of national and international policies to mitigate climate change, and strongly oppose several carbon tax proposals. Drawing on the theoretical distinction between analytic and experiential decision-making, this study found that American risk perceptions and policy support are strongly influenced by experiential factors, including affect, imagery, and values, and demonstrates that public responses to climate change are influenced by both psychological and socio-cultural factors.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alhakami, A. S. and Slovic, P.: 1994, “A psychological study of the inverse relationship between perceived risk and perceived benefit”, Risk Anal. 14, 1085–1096.
Benthin, A., Slovic, P., Moran, P., Severson, H., Mertz, C. K., and Gerrard, M.: 1995, “Adolescent health-threatening and health-enhancing behaviors: A study of word association and imagery”, J. Adoles. Health. 17, 143.
Bostrom, A., Morgan, M. G., Fischhoff, B., and Read, D.: 1994, ‘What do people know about global climate change?’ Risk Anal. 14, 959–970.
Dake, K.: 1991, “Orienting dispositions in the perception of risk: An analysis of contemporary worldviews and cultural biases”, J. Cross-Cult. Psychol. 22, 61–82.
Dake, K.: 1992, “Myths of nature: Culture and the social construction of risk”, J. Soc. Iss. 48, 21–27.
Dake, K. and Wildavsky, A.: 1990, ‘Theories of risk perception: Who fears what and why?’ Daedalus. 119, 41–60.
Dake, K. and Wildavsky, A.: 1991, “Individual Differences in Risk Perception and Risk-Taking Preferences”, in Garrick, B. J. and Geckler, W. C. (eds.), The Analysis, Communication, and Perception of Risk, Plenum, New York, pp. 15–24.
Damasio, A. R.: 1994, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Grosset/Putnam, New York.
Damasio, A.: 1999, The Feeling of What Happens. Harcourt, Inc., New York.
Dillman, D. A.: 2000, Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method. 2nd ed. J. Wiley, New York.
Douglas, M.: 1966, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
Douglas, M.: 1970, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. Barrie and Rockliff, London.
Douglas, M., Gasper, D., Ney, S., and Thompson M.: 1998, “Human Needs and Wants”, in Rayner, S. and Malone, E. L. (eds.), Human Choice and Climate Change, Battelle Press, Columbus, pp. 195–264.
Douglas, M. and Wildavsky, A.: 1982, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Dunlap, R. E. and Saad, L.: cited 2001, “Only One in Four Americans Are Anxious About the Environment”, [Available online from http://www.gallup.com/poll/content/login.aspx?ci=1801]
Eagley, A. H. and Chaiken, S.: 1998, “Attitude Structure and Function”, in Gilbert, D. T., Fiske, S. T., and Lindzey, G. (eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 269–322.
Epstein, S.: 1994, “Integration of the cognitive and the psychodynamic unconscious”, Am. Psychol. 49, 709–724.
Finucane, M. L., Alhakami, A. Slovic, P. and Johnson, S. M.: 2000, “The affect heuristic in judgments of risks and benefits”, J. Beh. Dec. Mak. 13, 1–17.
Jaeger, C. C., Renn, O., Rosa, E. A., and Webler, T.: 1998, “Decision Analysis and Rational Action”, in Rayner, S. and Malone, E. L. (eds.), Human Choice and Climate Change, Battelle Press, Columbus, pp. 141–216.
Jenkins-Smith, H.: 2001, “Modeling Stigma: An Empirical Analysis of Nuclear Images of Nevada”, in Flynn, J., Slovic, P., and Kunreuther, H. (eds.), Risk, Media and Stigma, Earthscan, London, pp. 107–131.
Kempton, W., Boster, J. S., and Hartley, J. A.: 1995, Environmental Values in American Culture. MIT Press, Cambridge.
Leiserowitz, A.: 2005, “American risk perceptions: Is climate change dangerous?”, Risk Anal. 25, 1433–1442.
Leiserowitz, A.: 2003, Global Warming in the American Mind: The Roles of Affect, Imagery, and Worldviews in Risk Perception, Policy Preferences and Behavior, Environmental Science, Studies and Policy, University of Oregon.
Loewenstein, G.: 1996, “Out of control: Visceral influences on behavior”, Org. Beh. Hum. Dec. Process. 65, 272–292.
Loewenstein, G., Weber, E., Hsee, C., and Welch, E.: 2001, “Risk as feelings”, Psychol. Bull. 127, 267–286.
Maio, G. R., Olson, J. M., Bernard, M. M., and Luke, M. A.: 2003, “Ideologies, Values, Attitudes, and Behavior”, in Delamater, J. (ed.), Handbook of Social Psychology, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, pp. 283–308.
Marland, G., Boden, T., and Andres, B.: cited 2003, “Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change”, [Available online from http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/trends/emis/top2000.tot]
Milton, K.: 1996, Environmentalism and Cultural Theory: Exploring the Role of Anthropology in Environmental Discourse. Routledge, New York.
National Assessment Synthesis Team (U.S.): 2001, Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change: Foundation. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Nisbett, R. E. and Ross, L.: 1980, Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
O'Connor, R. E., Bord, R. J., and Fisher, A.: 1999, “Risk perceptions, general environmental beliefs, and willingness to address climate change”, Risk Anal. 19, 461–471.
O'Riordan, T. and Jordan, A.: 1999, “Institutions, climate change and cultural theory: Towards a common analytical framework”, Glob. Env. Change. 9, 81–93.
Osgood, C., Suci, G. J., and Tannenbaum, P. H.: 1957, The Measurement of Meaning. University of Illinois Press, Chicago.
Pendergraft, C. A.: 1998, “Human dimensions of climate change: Cultural theory and collective action”, Clim. Change. 39, 643–666.
Peters, E. and Slovic, P.: 1996, “The role of affect and worldviews as orienting dispositions in the perception and acceptance of nuclear power”, J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 26, 1427.
Petty, R. E., Wedener, D. T., and Fabrigar, L. R.: 1997, “Attitudes and attitude change”, Ann. Rev. Psychol. 48, 609–647.
Pianin, E. and Goldstein, A.: 14 March 2001, “Bush Drops a Call for Emission Cuts”, The Washington Post, p. A01.
PIPA: cited 2005, “Data: Global Warming – Readiness to Accept Increases in Energy Costs”, [Available online from http://22.214.171.124/digest/global_issues/global_warming/questionnaire5.cfm.]
Read, D., Bostrom, A., Morgan, M. G., Fischhoff, B., and Smuts, T.: 1994, “What do people know about global climate change? Survey results of educated laypeople”, Risk Anal. 14, 971–982.
Revkin, A.: 17 March 2001, “Bush's Shift Could Doom Air Pact, Some Say”, The New York Times, p. 7.
Rippl, S.: 2002, “Cultural theory and risk perception: A proposal for a better measurement”, J. Risk Res. 5, 147–165.
Satterfield, T.: 2001, “Risk Lived, Stigma Experienced: Reflections on the Limits of Adaptations”, in Flynn, J., Slovic, P., and Kunreuther, H. (eds.), Risk, Media and Stigma, Earthscan, London, pp. 69–86.
Schiermeier, Q.: 2003, “Climate panel to seize political hot potatoes”, Nature 421, 879.
Schiermeier, Q.: 1997, Senate Resolution 98. 105 ed.
Slovic, P.: 1997, “Trust, Emotion, Sex, Politics and Science: Surveying the Risk-Assessment Battlefield”, in Bazerman, M., Tenbrunsel, A., and Wade-Benzoni, K. (eds.), Environment, Ethics and Behavior, New Lexington Press, San Francisco, pp. 277–313.
Slovic, P.: 2000, The Perception of Risk. Earthscan, London.
Slovic, P., Finucane, M. L., Peters, E., and MacGregor, D. G.: 2002, “The Affect Heuristic”, in Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., and Kahneman, D. (eds.), Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 397–420.
Slovic, P., Layman, M., and Flynn, J. H.: 1991, “Perceived risk, trust, and the politics of nuclear waste”, Science, 254, 1603–1608.
Slovic, P., MacGregor, D. G., and Peters, E.: 1998, “Imagery, Affect, and Decision-Making”, Decision Research, Eugene, OR.
Slovic, P. and Peters, E.: 1998, “The importance of worldviews in risk perception”, Risk Decision and Policy 3, 165–170.
Steg, L. and Sievers, I.: 2000, “Cultural theory and individual perceptions of environmental risks”, Env. Beh. 32, 250–269.
Szalay, L. B. and Deese, J.: 1978, Subjective Meaning and Culture: An Assessment Through Word Associations, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ.
U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division: cited 2005, “U.S. and World Population Clocks”, [Available online from http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html.]
United States National Energy Policy Development Group and United States President (2001– : Bush): 2001, Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America's Future: Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
Yale University: cited 2005, “Survey on American Attitudes on the Environment – Key Findings”, [Available online from http://www.yale.edu/envirocenter/yaleenvironmentpollspring2005releasetopline.pdf]
Yankelovich, D.: 1991, “Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World. 1st ed. The Frank W. Abrams Lectures, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York.
Yankelovich, D.: cited 2002, “The Seven Stages of Public Opinion”, [Available online from http://www.publicagenda.org/aboutpubopinion/aboutpubop7.htm.]
Zajonc, R. B.: 1980, “Feeling and thinking: preferences need no inferences”, Am. Psychol. 35, 151–175.
About this article
Cite this article
Leiserowitz, A. Climate Change Risk Perception and Policy Preferences: The Role of Affect, Imagery, and Values. Climatic Change 77, 45–72 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-006-9059-9
- Global Warming
- Risk Perception
- Climate Policy
- Kyoto Protocol
- Mitigate Climate Change