Public Understanding of Climate Change in the United States

Elke U. Weber, Paul C. Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

565 Scopus citations


This article considers scientific and public understandings of climate change and addresses the following question: Why is it that while scientific evidence has accumulated to document global climate change and scientific opinion has solidified about its existence and causes, U.S. public opinion has not and has instead become more polarized? Our review supports a constructivist account of human judgment. Public understanding is affected by the inherent difficulty of understanding climate change, the mismatch between people's usual modes of understanding and the task, and, particularly in the United States, a continuing societal struggle to shape the frames and mental models people use to understand the phenomena. We conclude by discussing ways in which psychology can help to improve public understanding of climate change and link a better understanding to action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-328
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Climate change perception
  • Expert-novice differences
  • Mental models
  • Risk perception


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