Kari Marie Norgaard: Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges


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Kari Marie Norgaard, author of the 2009 World Bank paper, “Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change,” will visit Portland on November 2nd to speak at the PSU Center for Public Humanities.

The paper offers an excellent – if incomplete – summary and bibliography of studies that probe humanity’s slow response to the potential for climate crisis. Norgaard misses some of the ethical challenges described by Dale Jamieson, Stephen Gardiner and others inthis issue of P&P. And, although she reviews socio-political barriers, she makes no mention of the fitness of scientific institutions themselves, a topic explored by Sheila Jasanoff and Brian Wynne, among others.

Where the paper shines, as its title suggests, is in its survey of the cognitive and behavioral fields. I’ve reproduced and hyperlinked two of the key tables.

Table 1: Psychological and Conceptual Barriers
Cognitive dissonance Individuals may block out or distance themselves from certain information in order to maintain coherent meaning systems (Summarized in Cohen 2001).
Desire to protect individual identity People are motivated to avoid threats to identity. Such threats may be mitigated by selective perception and cognition, and/or redefining the situation to make it reflect a more favorable view of the self (Gecas and Burke 1995).
Mental models, conceptually flawed Incorrect mental models lead to widespread confusion in the general public, including confusion between ozone hole and global climate change, between weather and climate, and regarding causes of climate change (Bostrom, Morgan, Fischoff, and Read 1994).
Role of affect, efficacy and negative emotions as response barriers Affect: Affect, the positive or negative evaluation of an object, idea, or mental image, has been shown to powerfully influence individual processing of information and decision-making. Climate change evokes negative affect (Lorenzoni et al. 2006;Leiserowitz 2007).
Efficacy: “People stop paying attention to global climate change when they realize that there is no easy solution for it. Many people judge as serious only those problems for which they think action can be taken.” (Krosnick, Holbrook, Lowe, and Visser 2006).
Efficacy: Personal efficacy regarding climate change is strongest predictor of concern. Increased levels of information about global warming have a negative effect on concern and sense of personal responsibility (Kellstedt, Zahran, and Vedlitz 2008).
Individuals may block out or distance themselves from certain information in order to maintain a sense of self-efficacy (Gecas and Burke 1995).
Negative emotions: Individuals may block out or distance themselves from certain information in order to maintain desirable emotional states (Rosenberg 1991; Stoll-Kleeman, O’Riordan, and Jaeger 2001; Meijndes, Midden, and Wilke 2001).


Table 2: Social and Cultural Barriers
National Identity Information on high carbon footprints contradicts patriotic national pride (Norgaard 2006b; Sandvik 2008).
Risk Society Complexity of modern life, knowledge specialization and overload (Ungar 2003).
Modern world risks disrupt underlying sense of stability e.g. our sense of ontological security (Giddens 1991; Norgaard 2006a and 2006b).
“Disembeddeness:” Collapsing time and space, risks perceived as remote from daily life (Giddens 1991; Norgaard 2006a and 2006b).
Cultural Cognition Norms Society organizes many aspects of thinking, including patterns of perception and memory (Zerubavel 2006; Norgaard 2006a and 2006b).
Norms of space: Focus on the local (Norgaard 2006b,Bulkeley 2000).
Norms of time: Future is vague, feels distant (Norgaard 2006b, Zerubavel 2006).
Emotional Norms and Emotion Management Fear, helplessness (Norgaard 2006a; Immerwahr 1999;Opotow and Weiss 2000; Giddens 1991).
Guilt: threats to identity as a good person (Norgaard 2006a;Sandvik 2008; Opotow and Weiss 2000)

As a footnote: Also no mention of Cultural Theory, which is discussed as “personal identities” in a much-linked article by Thomas Homer-Dixon (“Disaster at the Top of the World“) and figures in Anthony Leiserowitz’s discussion of “Climate Change Risk Perception and Policy Preferences: The Role of Affect, Imagery, and Values.”