by Judith Curry
…on average, climate change researchers will prefer to reach a decision or come to closure and ‘move on’ to the next step more quickly than the general population.
Personality type differences between Ph.D. climate researchers and the general public: implications for effective communication
C. Susan Weiler, Jason K. Keller, Christina Olex
Abstract. Effectively communicating the complexity of climate change to the public is an important goal for the climate change research community, particularly for those of us who receive public funds. The challenge of communicating the science of climate change will be reduced if climate change researchers consider the links between personality types, communication tendencies and learning preferences. Jungian personality type is one of many factors related to an individual’s preferred style of taking in and processing information, i.e., preferred communication style. In this paper, we demonstrate that the Jungian personality type profile of interdisciplinary, early career climate researchers is significantly different from that of the general population in the United States. In particular, Ph.D. climate researchers tend towards Intuition and focus on theories and the “big picture”, while the U.S. general population tends towards Sensing and focuses on concrete examples and experience. There are other differences as well in the way the general public as a group prefers to take in information, make decisions, and deal with the outer world, compared with the average interdisciplinary climate scientist. These differences have important implications for communication between these two groups. We suggest that climate researchers will be more effective in conveying their messages if they are aware of their own personality type and potential differences in preferred learning and communication styles between themselves and the general public (and other specific audiences), and use this knowledge to more effectively target their audience.
Published by Climatic Change, full text is [here].
The study uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicatory personality inventory.
More than 2 million people in the U.S. alone take the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI®) personality test each year, and it has been translated into more than 30 languages. The basic personality types are determined from a combination of the following four personality traits:
Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).
Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
Excerpts from the Discussion:
The MBTI® Type Tables for Occupations provide data on the frequency of types in a variety of occupations (Schaubhut and Thompson 2008). For example, Schaubhut and Thompson (2008) identify ENFP as the most frequent personality type for college or university faculty members (12%). While most of the participants in the climate change symposia were still in post-doctoral positions, the majority intended to pursue academic careers. Interestingly, in contrast to the data reported by Schaubhut and Thompson (2008), ENFJ was the most frequent type for the Ph.D. climate researchers attending the symposia, with ENFP ranking as only the fifth most frequent personality type (Fig. 2). Similarly, only 7% of symposia participants preferred the ISTJ personality type which is the most frequent personality type for a variety of scientific occupations including: biochemists, biologists, chemists, economists, geoscientists, microbiologists, plant scientists and statisticians (Schaubhut and Thompson 2008).
Symposia participants exhibited a strong preference (82%) for taking in information through Intuition (Fig. 1). Overall, 62% of the college or university faculty in Schaubhut and Thompson (2008) indicated a preference for Intuition, as did the majority of biochemists, biologists, chemists, economists, geoscientists, microbiologist, plant scientists and statisticians. However, none of these career types were as extreme in their preferences for Intuition as the climate researchers in our study. It may well be that this tendency towards Intuition is a by-product of our selection for interdisciplinary scholars over specialists in specific disciplines.
These apparent discrepancies highlight the fact that the personality of two individual climate change scientist may be completely different (as might the personality types of any two members of any population). Thus, while we make suggestions on how the ‘typical’ climate change researcher might more effectively communicate with the ‘typical’ member of the general population, these recommendations will not fit every situation. We therefore encourage all scientists to consider their personality type, and preferred communication style, when developing strategies for effectively communicating with the general public and with other audiences. Efforts to include a ‘balanced approach’ to reach all preferred styles, not just those with which an individual researcher is most naturally comfortable, will increase chances of effective communication with a mixed audience. This is especially important now that more research is done concerning perspectives of the general public on the topic of climate change (Maibach et al. 2009).
The preference for Intuition by early career climate scientists suggests that this group is likely to be more oriented towards future climate impacts than members of the general public, who generally prefer Sensing over Intuition (Fig. 1). For Sensors, the current situation is more relevant and more easily appreciated, and past experience and concrete facts are more trusted than future possibilities. Thus, climate impacts beyond the present or readily foreseeable future may lack relevance among the general public. This is reinforced by Kastens et al. (2009) who suggest that in contrast to the general population, geoscientists are characterized by an ability to think about past and future geological events in addition to the present situation. Scientists who prefer Intuition can help bridge this potential communication divide by starting with the concrete and short term and building towards the big picture without any leaps in cause and effect. By beginning with the current state and moving on to how the current state is changing, using a step-by-step approach to how these changes will impact the future, Intuitive researchers can facilitate an understanding of these connections with a Sensing audience. When communicating with Sensors, it is also important to focus on concrete near-home examples. While the plight of polar bears may be of great concern to Intuitives, Sensors are likely to be motivated more by documented temperature or seasonal changes in their local areas. In other words, with this audience, you may think globally, but you should speak locally.
Our sample of climate researchers was equally split between Feeling and Thinking preferences, a significant over-representation of Thinkers compared to the general population (Fig. 1). Our results suggest that the climate-change research community may more effectively communicate with the general public by including the personal and local impacts of climate change in addition to more analytical results. This is also in line with the preferences of Sensors. The personal/local “Feeling” communication style may come naturally to roughly half of the climate research community, but the other half will need to learn and practice it more to be as naturally effective as their counterparts.
Compared to the United States population, Ph.D. climate scientists also exhibited a strong preference for Judging on the final dichotomy (Fig. 1). This suggests that on average, climate change researchers will prefer to reach a decision or come to closure and ‘move on’ to the next step more quickly than the general population. The general population, with a higher proportion of Perceivers, is more likely to see room for doubt, or want to take more time to explore possible alternatives, especially when outcomes are not likely to be positive. When presenting climate change to the general public, it is important for researchers to confirm what information is still unknown and what areas are still being studied. In this regard, Ward (2008) suggested that “scientists should talk with reporters during the research stage, and not simply when their findings are published in a journal. Sometimes the process of research is what can engage an audience.” As others have pointed out, balancing simplified statements of certainty with more complex statements that reflect the full range of uncertainties associated with climate change is an inherent challenge when communicating with the general public (Moser and Dilling 2004), and one that must be addressed.
The inherent differences in the preferred communication styles of early career Ph.D. climate researchers and the general public (Fig. 1) are likely to exacerbate the challenge of effectively communicating climate change if they are not addressed. Knowledge of personality type provides a powerful tool that can be used to improve communication, and lead to greater public understanding of climate change and its impacts. As preferred communication style varies considerably within the climate change research community (Fig. 2), it is impossible to suggest universal strategies to improve communication. However, we suggest that by being aware of one’s own personality type and communication style, an individual researcher can better consider how to communicate with audiences made up of a broad range of personality types that are likely to be different from his or her own. Improved understanding of personality type can help us communicate better with our students, colleagues and, perhaps most importantly, will facilitate communicating important climate change information with the general public.
Andrew Freedman’s comments
Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post has written on this article [here]. Some excerpts:
While it’s not exactly a big surprise that scientists tend to process information differently than the general public — consider the popular culture view of scientists as eccentrics — this study brings to bear some uniquely promising information to the climate change communications conundrum.
For instance, the study finds that climate scientists tend to fall within the Myers-Brigg category of those who tend to process information based on “intuition,” whereas the general public shows a preference for “sensing.”
Here’s why this particular finding is important. People who are classified as processing information using intuition tend to focus on theories and ask “why” questions, and are interested in the bigger picture more than small details. They are also oriented towards the future, and prefer the use of metaphors, analogies and other “symbolic language.”
“Sensors,” on the other hand, are interested in the present, and tend to relate the present to events in the past. They ask “what” and “how” questions, rather than “why,” and look for facts instead of theories. Sensors also prefer plain language rather than metaphors.
The results suggest that scientists would help facilitate greater public understanding of climate science and climate change if they would discuss the issue’s relevance to the present day, and at the local level. Too often, climate scientists focus their remarks on global projections out to 2050 or 2100, which lack relevance to the here and now. [ JC emphasis]
JC’s test results
You can take the test online [here]. I took the test, I scored INTJ
- moderately expressed introvert
- very expressed intuitive personality
- moderately expressed thinking personality
- moderately expressed judging personality
- personality type
- highest degree (and field)
- skeptical or convinced re climate change (convinced implying support for the IPCC conclusions)