Romantic partners can influence each other’s beliefs and behaviors on climate change, new study finds
Few would argue that romantic partners have the potential to change each other’s beliefs and behaviors, but what about their views on climate change specifically? Until now, there has been little analysis of the dynamics of climate change conversations in romantic relationships and how one partner’s beliefs can influence another.
A team of researchers led by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication at the Yale School of the Environment has explored this concept and found that partners can influence each other through conversations about climate change.
“We wanted to see if there are opportunities for couples to increase support for pro-climate policies and behavior by having more conversations about climate change,” said Matthew Goldberg, associate research scientist at YPCCC and lead author of the study published in the Environmental Psychology Journal†
The researchers surveyed 758 romantic couples to determine their understanding of each other’s ideas about climate change and the extent to which partners were aligned on climate change beliefs and behaviors.
The team asked each partner questions about the topic, including whether they are concerned about climate change, donating to climate organizations and posting about the issue on social media. The participants were also asked to predict what their partner would say.
The results revealed that while many partners displayed similar beliefs and behaviors around climate change, there were also many discrepancies. There was only 38% agreement between partners about their climate views and only 31% agreement about climate behaviour. The study also found that partners discussing climate change had a more accurate picture of the other’s beliefs.
These results suggest that there is an opportunity for partners to influence each other through more conversations about climate change.
The researchers used the YPCCC’s Global Warming’s Six Americas framework to classify the participants’ views. The Six Americas framework is based on a set of six perspectives on climate change ranging from “alertised,” seeing climate change as a pressing threat, to “rejecting,” seeing global warming as a hoax or a non-existent problem .
While very few couples held opposing views, more than a third of couples had one partner whose beliefs were classified as “alarmed,” while the other was somewhat less concerned or concerned.
This inequality is exactly the kind of situation where there’s an opportunity to push the needle on climate change beliefs and behaviors, Goldberg says.
“Mass communication is critical, but may not be the most effective way to change public support for climate change,” he says. “A partner knows their partner infinitely better than an unknown communicator – and knows how to leverage the issues their partner cares about to engage them in action on climate change.”
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Climate Change Communications Program and a senior researcher at the Yale School of the Environment who co-authored the report, says talking about climate change is not a substitute for action, but can help raise awareness to increase the problem.
“This study shows that people who are deeply concerned about climate change are likely to have close significant others who have not yet fully engaged with the problem. Climate conversations can start right at home, with your loved ones,” says Leiserowitz.
Goldberg says their findings could apply to all types of relationships beyond romantic, and the results open up a range of possibilities for involving people in climate change.
“A lot of people are very concerned about climate change, but they don’t talk about it,” he says. “Discussing climate change can bring more people together — and increase engagement.”
Scientific coverage of climate change may change your mind – in short
Matthew H. Goldberg et al, Perceptions and Correspondence of Climate Change Beliefs and Behaviors in Romantic Couples, Environmental Psychology Journal (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.jenvp.2022.101836
Provided by Yale School of the Environment
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