As we're getting into the hurricane season, the scary reality is that scientists' measurements of storm intensity show that North Atlantic hurricanes have become more destructive in recent decades.
But not everybody sees it that way.
A newly published study by researchers from Princeton University, Auburn University-Montgomery, Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University found that how people along the Gulf Coast perceive hurricanes doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with science.
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Instead, they found, the most important factor in influencing a person to believe that hurricanes are getting more intense past is whether they've actually lived through such a storm.
"This result is consistent with availability bias, suggesting that perceptions are associated with most accessible and retrievable events," the researcher wrote in the article, which was published in International Journal of Climatology.
A person's political views also tend to affect perceptions of hurricane strength. "Compared to Democrats and Independents, Republicans are far less likely to believe that climate is changing, and thus they tend to not believe that hurricanes are becoming stronger," the researchers found.
Gender also played a role, with men -- who are more often climate skeptics -- less likely to believe that storms are becoming more intense than women are.
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"The increasing power of Atlantic hurricanes is often connected to climate change, but studies have shown that Republicans and males tend to be more skeptical of climate change," Ning Lin, the senior researcher on the study and a Princeton assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a press release. "We found a strong link between disbelief in climate change and disbelief that storms are getting worse -- they tend to come as a package."
That disbelief can be hazardous to people's health. It might them less likely to take adequate precautions, such as investing in storm shutters, roof and wall fortifications, flood-proof flooring and other structural buffers, the researchers warn. And it also reduces support for spending government money to build seawalls, sand dunes and other needed resiliency measures.
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