School of Psychological Science

Postgraduate Profiles

Isabel Rossen

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Moral Foundations Theory and Climate Change Beliefs: Can moral intuitions help to understand partisan differences in climate change scepticism


I am interested in public perceptions of climate change, in particular the political divide whereby those who identify as right wing are more likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change. My research applies Moral Foundations Theory to understand this divide. We propose that it may be due to the inability of climate change message to activate moral intuitions typically favoured by those on the political right (purity, ingroup loyalty, economic liberty), and the ability of anti-climate change action messages to affirm these same moral intuitions. Furthermore, we suggest that belief in climate change may be built upon moral preferences typically found on the political left (harm and fairness).

Why my research is important

Scientific consensus indicates that climate change is occurring and is largely caused by human activity. This is supported by a preponderance of climate scientists, with a 97% agreement on the major tenets of the IPCCs most recent report, and an even higher level of agreement among those with the most relevant expertise and scientific prominence. However, there is a divide between scientific risk analyses and public perceptions of climate change, whereby a significant proportion of the population, at least in Western, developed nations, report doubt about the seriousness, anthropogenic nature and reality of climate change. This observable (and growing) gap between scientific consensus and public perceptions of climate change is of great concern, not only due to the potential for public opinion to constrain mitigative policy, but also more broadly the unfounded and widespread challenge to mainstream science. This research attempts to explain this occurrence and furthermore to design communication to lessen this divide.

Moral Foundations as a function of political ideology

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Last updated:
Friday, 23 January, 2015 3:27 PM