Decision-making under the deep uncertainty of climate change: The psychological and political agency of narratives

Sara M. Constantino, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Fossil fuel-based development has resulted in climate change and biodiversity loss, threatening the ability of the biosphere to sustain civilization. However, despite the transformative change needed to address climate change, the complexity inherent in dynamic, coupled social-ecological systems can create challenges that stifle mitigation and adaptation efforts. For example, increasing urbanization can mask information about the local and distal ecological impacts of unsustainable consumption patterns. Diverse actors, powerful vested interests in the status quo, and differential impacts of climate change create inevitable tradeoffs and conflicts among stakeholders. The multitude of plausible future scenarios and their dependence on actions taken today create challenges for planning, governance, and collective action. While there is a long history in psychology and economics of studying decision-making under uncertainty, we argue that the deep uncertainty inherent in climate change cannot be easily understood using these same paradigms. In this context, narratives—stories about how the world works, what the future will look like, and our own role in this process—can extend cognition, creating shared knowledge across space and time, and shape our beliefs, values and actions in the face of tremendous uncertainty. Narratives thus have political and psychological agency and can reinforce or challenge existing power relations and trajectories. Here, we review some of this literature in the context of climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-159
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychology
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Climate change
  • Decision-making
  • Deep uncertainty
  • Embedded cognition
  • Social-ecological systems


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