Last week's polar vortex weather event wasn't only hard on fingers, toes and heating bills. It also overpowered the ability of most people to make sound judgments about climate change, in the same way that heat waves do, according to a new study published in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.
Researchers have known for some time that the acceptance of climate change depends on the day most people are asked. During unusually hot weather, people tend to accept global warming, and they swing against it during cold events.
"While a number of studies have looked at the relationship between daily temperature and global warming judgments or opinions, very few have explored the psychology that underlies the effect," said Lisa Zaval, a graduate student in psychology at Columbia University and lead author of the new research that begins to dig deeper.
Zaval and her colleagues looked at five recent studies on the effects of warm weather on climate change opinions and found evidence for something called attribute substitution. That's where a person forms their opinions using less relevant, but more readily available, information (like today's temperature), rather than more diagnostic, but less accessible, information (like global climate change patterns). There is every reason to expect that it works the same way with cold snaps, she said.