Climate change judgements can depend on whether today seems warmer or colder than usual, termed the local warming effect. Although previous research has demonstrated that this effect occurs, studies have yet to explain why or how temperature abnormalities influence global warming attitudes. A better understanding of the underlying psychology of this effect can help explain the public's reaction to climate change and inform approaches used to communicate the phenomenon. Across five studies, we find evidence of attribute substitution, whereby individuals use less relevant but available information (for example, today's temperature) in place of more diagnostic but less accessible information (for example, global climate change patterns) when making judgements. Moreover, we rule out alternative hypotheses involving climate change labelling and lay mental models. Ultimately, we show that present temperature abnormalities are given undue weight and lead to an overestimation of the frequency of similar past events, thereby increasing belief in and concern for global warming.
Nature Climate Changevol.
4, (February 01, 2014):