What's the Temperature Today? Your Answer Depends on Your Political Beliefs

By Sophie Bushwick | July 21, 2012 9:00 am

spacing is important

Have you noticed that it’s been hotter than usual lately? Your answer might reveal your ideology.

Now, it’s old news that American acceptance of global climate change is closely linked to political affiliation: As of 2011, 77 percent of Democrats thought the Earth was getting warmer, but only 43 percent of Republicans agreed. We also already knew that when it gets hotter, more people of both affiliations say the Earth is warming.

But it isn’t necessarily a one-way street. A new study flips it around: Researchers have found that ideology can skew how people perceive local temperature trends. In other words, your answer to “Has it been hotter lately?” can reveal whether you’re an individualist or more community oriented.

Researchers looked at three years of surveys on the weather, divided them up by zip code, and compared residents’ answers to the actual weather in each area. It turned out that people correctly observed trends in weather events, such as floods and droughts. But on average, their perceptions of temperature trends had nothing to do with the actual climate. Instead, the best predictor of people’s answers was cultural affiliation.

Strong individualists, whose dislike of rules makes them opposed to environmental regulations, believed that temperatures were the same, while egalitarians, who prioritize their group identities, were more likely to state that temperatures had increased. Because we have incorporated belief in climate change into our political and cultural identities—and temperature is strongly associated with global warming—the need to maintain our identities skews our perception of reality.

[via Ars Technica]

Thermometer image via Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Mind & Brain
  • Corey

    Perhaps this just shows a reporting bias and not an actual change in perception. Those who believe in climate change may have simply reported warmer temperatures to emphasize their belief, likewise, deniers might say the temperatures are consistent in order to emphasize theirs.

    Either way, this just emphasizes the public misunderstanding of weather vs climate change. Indeed the terminology “Global Warming” has caused scientists tons of problems when the public incorrectly tries to compare weather and climate.

  • Pippa

    Sadly, predictable. We know this skews our acceptance of acceptance of even relatively rigid scientific evidence, so why not subjective experience. Someone of my Dad’s generation told me that global warming could not possibly be happening because the oceans were not warming up. When I informed him that there was evidence that the oceans are indeed slowly warming and why this would be very slow, he responded that we cannot measure trends reliably with such a wide normal range of fluctuation. One example of many.

  • http://graygoosegosling.wordpress.com Craig Gosling

    That question is not valid. Estimating the day’s temperature has nothing to do with long-term climate change and only a few idiots would claim different. The correct question should be stated as: What does today’s temperature tell you about climate change and global warming? The answer, of course is: One day’s, one week’s, one month’s, one year’s temperature tells us nothing accept that it is part of a temperature trend that may indicate a gradual increase or decrease in global temperature. Such fluctuations may result in higher and lower temperatures in different locals. Deniers of climate change are usually politically conservative and gullible.

  • jeff

    The point is that it reveals something interesting (though not terribly unpredictable) about the way we think.

  • Uncle B

    Today’s Temperature
    Still, we see the drought in the U.S.A., we see the aqua-firs near pumped dry, The Colorado river unable to make it to the sea, we know that Texas Oil did come to an end, we see the Middle East as a perpetual oil source – it is not. We watch as our immortal U.S. Dollar loses its PPP (Purchasing Price Parity) around this world, even in the last decade once fetched a barrel of oil for $32.00, now it takes $90.00, Gold once $52.00 / oz., now $1700.00 / oz., we witness Detroit City, the change in only four decades, a cultural and economic jewel to Third World. Even as the sky lines of Asian cities exceed ours, and ours age and shrink away, we preach to ourselves our story of invincibility, superiority, and speak of ourselves as “Chosen Ones” with a “Special” monopoly on destiny. We see our school systems crumble to 39th in this world, yet proclaim we are the smartest, we see medical miracles from the new Pan Eurasian reality that our doctors cannot even understand, only manuscript-ed in Mandarin and a strange new science there, yet we stand tall and bold even in the face of reality and proclaim ourselves. Let us enjoy this mysticism this ego fawning, this make-believe, of the Great Corporate American Propaganda Whore’s mesmerizations for one more generation of SUV’s McMansions, air-conditioned desk job futures, grandiose notions of the potential for future personal riches, this drunken debauchery and dope filled excursion from reality for one more generation. How many fields “salted” for ROI? How much farmland in drought, facing the end of the aqua-firs? how much poison in the meat and milk, how many more oil rich countries left for conquest and plunder, until we simply are mired down in radio-active reactor wastes, in a dessertified, concreted, paved, land of accumulated detritus? The temperature today, my friends means so little now, doesn’t it. Believe as you wish.

  • JD

    If temperature is higher it creates more water to evaporate in the atmosphere which creates more cloud cover and causes cooler temperature. We are just seeing a very small piece of the pie and worry about the slightest change. Don’t worry, be happy!

  • ….Who knows?

    What happened to the sinagua Indians in the 1400’s? Their climate changed. Always has been changing, always will.

  • Wilson

    It’s the human condition.

    Some people are pessimists, some are optimists. Some need the protection of the group, others strike out on their own for new horizons. Some see catastrophic climate change, some see climate variablity on a larger scale.

    Generally people tend to look for validation of their worldview, and unfortunately that includes scientists, who are after all, human.

    In science “Conventional wisdom” prevails (peer approval is the way to financial grants and publishing success) and is staunchly defended until a new paradigm emerges (usually from the sceptics – see Copernicus, Galileo,Einstein and Bohr et al)

    Doomsayers and optimists will always be with us, as long as the doomsayers do not find a way to permanently silence the optimists.

    Long live the optimists!

  • Sunny D

    What the temperature really is is in comparison to historical records. There’s nothing else to it. Personal opinion, whether based on political views or not, are always off.

  • Michael M

    Yes, most of you have it:

    Correspondence bias, in which only information corresponding to your presumptions and acquired beliefs, is allowed in.

    This is why those ridiculous right wing pundits appear to be intransigent to the point of lying both to themselves and to all they can influence.
    In their own eyes they are not lying, but properly skeptical.

    Skepticism, however, requires that we open our minds to information and evidence.
    To ignore and deprecate ethical science with its immense hours and years of accumulation and testing, in not truly to be skeptical, but close-minded to the point of disingenuousness in any social situation in which one’s beliefs might possibly be assaulted .

    Science by its nature is extremely skeptical of any new hypothesis.

    Since it is a large scale endeavor, it is not at all monolithic, and all peer review is conducted upon challenge of hypotheses.
    What this means, is that when consensus is finally achieved, as it was in relevant sciences concerning anthropogenic climate change back in 1989 to 1992, that no longer did there remain any significant rigorous argument against the physics and upward trending global temperature, nor was there any longer scientific or intelligently reasoned disagreement.

    Those insufficiently familiar with the rigor of the challenge process and the resultant refining and further narrowing of probable causes for the phenomenon have been the only ones to differ, and that is for political reasons, which tend to be associated with intractable mindsets having agendas which are social and/of financial.
    Their denial has been for 20 years, untenable.

    Yet, as humans, we do not wish to seem disloyal to those with whom we have made coalition, lest we be left out in the struggle for social status.

    So the level of denial of the rigorously tested evidence, and now the further accumulation of evidence due to the climate changes having speedier and more violent manifestations, has become a source of anger as these having no other recourse, pretend to themselves that no change is occurring, more desperately deny even their own temperature-sensing neurons.

  • Anne

    It would be good if you could spell “aquifer” correctly or is that some kind of code? We should take care of our environment and be good stewards of our resources. Blips and hiccups do not make a long term trend. I agree. Long live the optimists with the caveat that we have enough self awareness to realize that we are part of a natural system in which we participate and influence through our decisions and actions.


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