Study: Global Climate Threats Make People more “Ethnocentric”

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Two studies have discovered that if you tell people the entire world is threatened by climate change, they focus on protecting the people they care about.


Faced with a challenge that requires a global response, humans cling more tightly to their clan.

The prospect of a dangerously warming planet inspires us to cling more tightly to our tribe. That is the discouraging finding of two newly published studies.

One reports that confronting people with climate-change warnings provoked higher levels of ethnocentrism among residents of a central European nation—and decreased their intentions of acting in Earth-friendly ways. The other finds the threat of global warming increases group conformity, leading people to more tightly endorse the truisms their circle subscribe to.

The results aren’t surprising, if you consider the long line of research that finds threat of any kind tends to foster this sort of solidarity. It’s just that this problem will require a globally coordinated response—not the insular, defensive crouch it apparently induces.

The abstract of the first study;

Undesirable effects of threatening climate change information: A cross-cultural study

Isabella Uhl, Johannes Klackl, Nina Hansen, Eva Jonas
First Published October 30, 2017

Why is the fight against climate change so challenging? Research suggests that climate change information may trigger symbolic defense strategies such as derogative outgroup behaviors (e.g., ethnocentrism) instead of direct attempts to address the problem itself (e.g., proenvironmental behavior). Ingroup affirmation may help decrease symbolic responses. We conducted a 2 (Affirmation: ingroup vs. no affirmation) × 2 (Message: threat vs. control) × 2 (Nation: Austria vs. Argentina) experiment (N = 243) to assess responses to climate change information (direct and symbolic) in participants from individualist and collectivist cultures. Participants responded with higher levels of ethnocentrism and a lower intention to engage in proenvironmental behavior after reading climate change information. This effect was significant in Austria. Using ingroup affirmation as an intervention tended to foster rather than reduce ethnocentrism. Thus, across cultures people resolve climate change threat in symbolic ways rather than by trying to address the problem itself.

The abstract of the second study;

Closing ranks: Ingroup norm conformity as a subtle response to threatening climate change

Markus Barth, Torsten Masson, Immo Fritsche, Carolin-T. Ziemer
First Published October 26, 2017 Research Article

We tested the hypothesis that climate change threat increases group-based cognition and action tendencies. As ingroups can provide extended primary control, we expected climate change threat to increase conformity with ingroup norms and group protective behavior. In three studies (N = 404), we experimentally manipulated climate change threat (Studies 1–3) and group norm content (Studies 2 and 3). We found that participants under climate change threat more strongly derogated group members who acted against the group’s interests (Study 1). When a specific group norm was made salient, both manipulated (Study 3) and perceived climate change threat (Studies 2 and 3) increased ingroup norm conformity. Importantly, this effect occurred for norms of radical left-wing behavior. This suggests that climate change threat does not necessarily induce a conservative shift. Instead, it elicits group-based defenses whose expression depends on which ingroup and which of its norms are salient.

Read more:

Both studies are paywalled, so we are spared the details of how they frightened their test subjects with climate threats, then observed as test subjects “derogated” members of the group who refused to conform to perceived solutions to the threats.

via Watts Up With That?

November 10, 2017 at 08:36AM

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