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Illuminating the link between perceived threat and control over climate change: the role of attributions for causation and mitigation

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Perceiving greater threat from climate change has been shown to positively affect beliefs about humanity’s ability to mitigate the threat. We examined two possible mediators of this paradoxical relationship utilizing data from a large socioeconomically diverse sample of the US adults (n = 1040) collected in 2015. Specifically, we predicted that attributing responsibility for either causing or mitigating climate change to government entities would bolster perceived collective control for addressing the problem. Results of structural equation modeling suggest that both types of attributions mediate the relationship between perceived threat and control over climate change, with the full model accounting for 57% of the variance in perceived collective control. Moreover, for the overall sample, attributions of responsibility for mitigating climate change emerged as a stronger mediator of perceived control than did causal attributions and as the only significant mediator among Republicans. We consider implications of these findings for understanding the role of attribution processes in public engagement on climate change and the effective communication of environmental risks.

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  1. In accordance with guidelines for such analysis (Muthén and Muthén 1998–2015), measurement invariance, or the lack of differences in the latent constructs across groups, was first confirmed. See Supplementary Materials for details.


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Correspondence to Julie Davydova.

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Davydova, J., Pearson, A.R., Ballew, M.T. et al. Illuminating the link between perceived threat and control over climate change: the role of attributions for causation and mitigation. Climatic Change 148, 45–59 (2018).

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