Climate of silence: Pluralistic ignorance as a barrier to climate change discussion

N. Geiger and J. K. Swim

Journal of Environmental Psychology (2016)

DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.05.002

Abstract Despite the importance of interpersonal public communication about climate change, most citizens rarely discuss the topic. In two studies, we find that inaccurate perceptions of others' opinions (i.e. pluralistic ignorance) contribute to self-silencing among those concerned about climate change. Study 1 illustrates that those who are aware of others' concern about climate change report greater willingness to discuss the issue than those with inaccurate perceptions of others' opinions. Study 2 demonstrates that correcting pluralistic ignorance increases concerned participants' willingness to discuss climate change. In both studies, pluralistic ignorance leads to self-silencing because perceptions that others do not share one's opinion are associated with expecting to be perceived as less competent in a conversation about climate change. In contrast to previous research on confronting prejudice, in the present research expectations about being disliked did not explain self-silencing. We discuss the implications for self-silencing and promoting interpersonal communication about climate change.

keywords: Climate change; Pluralistic ignorance; Discussion; Impression management; Stereotype content model

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