NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Most people will probably tell you that trying to change their significant other’s mind is a recipe for sleeping on the couch. However, researchers from Yale University find romantic partners are actually quite influential when it comes to swaying their loved one about climate change.
Scientists at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication at the Yale School of the Environment set out to research this topic, ultimately concluding that there’s quite a lot of potential for partners to influence each other’s beliefs while discussing climate change.
“We wanted to see if there’s potential for couples to increase support for pro-climate policies and behaviors through more conversations about climate change,” says lead study author Matthew Goldberg, associate research scientist at YPCCC, in a university release.
Couples still don’t match up on climate change perfectly
A total of 758 couples took part in the study. Researchers surveyed each couple to get a sense of how they understood each other’s climate beliefs, as well as just how much their climate beliefs and behaviors aligned. The team asked each partner if they worry about climate change, whether they donate to climate organizations, or if they post about climate issues on social media. Each person also had to predict their partner’s answers.
Many couples indeed exhibited similar climate beliefs and behaviors, but there were also many discrepancies. For example, only 38 percent of a couple’s climate beliefs lined up, and only 31 percent of their climate behaviors did as well.
Not all that surprisingly, the research also indicates that couples who routinely talk about climate change have a more accurate idea of each other’s beliefs.
Study authors used YPCCC’s Global Warming’s Six Americas framework to classify participant beliefs. That framework encompasses six different viewpoints about climate change, ranging from “alarmed” (most concerned) to “dismissive” (least concerned, sees global warming as a hoax).
Loved ones are more convincing than an ad
Few couples outright held opposing views on climate change. However, over a third of couples included one member who met the criteria for “alarmed,” while the other was less concerned. Researchers say findings like these are important. If one partner is alarmed about climate change but the other isn’t as worried, the alarmed partner should try to engage their significant other more on this topic. After all, aren’t we all more inclined to listen to our loved ones than ad campaigns or celebrities?
“Mass communication is critical but might not be the most effective way to shift public support on climate change,” Goldberg explains. “A partner knows their partner infinitely better than some unknown communicator — and knows how to harness the issues that their partner cares about to engage them in action on climate change.”
Study co-author Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and a senior research scientist at the Yale School of the Environment, stresses that it simply isn’t enough to sit around and talk about climate change. We’re way past that stage. Still, more discussions can raise awareness and that’s at least a start.
“This study finds that people who are very concerned about climate change likely have close significant others that haven’t yet fully engaged the issue. Climate conversations can start right at home, with your loved ones,” Leiserowitz comments.
In conclusion, Goldberg adds that these findings likely apply to other relationships besides the romantic variety, including family and close friends.
“Lots of people are very worried about climate change, but they’re not talking about it,” the researcher concludes. “Discussing climate change can bring more people into alignment — and increase engagement.”
The study is published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.