Based on how the issue is often framed in the media, you might assume that people of higher intelligence would be more likely to take the ‘alarmist’ position in climate change: that climate change is a serious problem and it’s caused mostly by human activity.
After all, it is said that there’s an overwhelming scientific consensus supporting the ‘alarmist’ position. And you’d expect that people of higher intelligence would be more likely to share the views of scientists.
However, that’s not what a recent study found.
Two psychologists – Adrian Furnam and Charlotte Robinson – gave the ‘Climate Change Attitude Survey’ to a sample of 500 European adults, selected through the platform Prolific. This is a 15-item questionnaire, measuring people’s beliefs about climate change:
As you can see, some of the items (e.g., 1, 2 and 3) deal with whether climate change is happening, while other items (e.g., 10, 11, 12) deal with whether individual actions can make a difference.
In order to disentangle these two aspects of the survey, the researchers factor-analysed respondents’ answers. They identified a factor that was strongly associated with the answers to items 1–7 and 8. Which is fancy way of saying they created a variable that gave substantial weight to these items.
Note that the items all deal with whether climate change is happening, whether it’s a serious problem, and whether it’s caused by human activity. Hence the corresponding variable can be seen as an overall measure of agreement with the ‘alarmist’ position on climate change.
Aside from the ‘Climate Change Attitude Survey’, respondents were given an intelligence test, and were asked about their religious and political views. The intelligence test was a 16-item version of the ‘Wonderlic Personnel Test’ – a well-known and respected instrument.
So what did the researchers find? Overall, there was no correlation between intelligence and attitudes to climate change climate change. People with higher intelligence were neither more nor less likely to take the ‘alarmist’ position.
On the other hand, political views were strongly associated with people’s attitudes: those who identified as “liberal” were much more likely to take the ‘alarmist’ position than those who identified as “conservative”.
When the researchers carried out a multivariate analysis of people’s attitudes (by including many different predictors in the same model) they found that political views was the only statistically significant predictor. This is shown in the table below:
Overall, Furnham and Robinson found no evidence that people of higher intelligence were likely to take the ‘alarmist’ position on climate change – a result they described as “surprising”. Contrary to what many would have us believe, climate change ‘sceptics’ are not deficient in cognitive ability.
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