by Judith Curry
Canadian researchers report people hold negative views of political and social activists, and their unwillingness to associate with such people dampens the likelihood of changing their behavior.
The ironic impact of activists: Negative stereotypes reduce social change influence
Nadia Bashir, Penelope Lockwood, Alison Chasteen, Daniel Nadolny, Indra Noyes
Abstract. Despite recognizing the need for social change in areas such as social equality and environmental protection, individuals often avoid supporting such change. Researchers have previously attempted to understand this resistance to social change by examining individuals’ perceptions of social issues and social change. We instead examined the possibility that individuals resist social change because they have negative stereotypes of activists, the agents of social change. Participants had negative stereotypes of activists (feminists and environmentalists), regardless of the domain of activism, viewing them as eccentric and militant. Furthermore, these stereotypes reduced participants’ willingness to affiliate with ‘typical’ activists and, ultimately, to adopt the behaviours that these activists promoted. These results indicate that stereotypes and person perception processes more generally play a key role in creating resistance to social change.
Published online by European Journal of Social Psychology. [link] to abstract
The Pacific Standard has a post on this paper, titled Environmentalism? Perhaps. Environmentalists? Ewww! Excerpt:
In one [study], 140 Americans…read an article about climate change and “the need for individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyles.”
For one-third of the participants, the writer was described as a stereotypical environmentalist…. Another third were told he was an atypical, less-abrasive environmentalist…. For the final third, his profile did not mention environmental activism at all.
After reading the article, participants were asked whether it inspired them to do more recycling, or otherwise take more eco-friendly actions.
“Participants were less motivated to adopt pro-environmental behaviors when these behaviors were advocated by the ‘typical’ environmentalist, rather than by the ‘atypical’ environmentalist or the undefined target,” the researchers report.
Via Meadia sums it up this way in an article entitled Greens Are Their Own Worst Enemies:
Did you catch that? If the author was just described as an environmentalist, it made readers less likely to live “sustainably” than if the author was unidentified.
Our pointing out this story isn’t about directing snark at clueless greens. The truth is that the world needs smarter environmentalists—people who understand that mass migration to sustainable communes isn’t a viable solution, who understand that society isn’t about to voluntarily retreat to an 18th-century lifestyle or curtail economic growth. These environmentalists exist. Bjørn Lomborg, for one, has as solid a grasp of policy as he does of science.
The world deserves a smart green movement, capable of effectively advocating for sustainable development. It doesn’t have one, and that’s a shame.
Society of Environmental Journalists
Climate Change and Media Coverage: Have We Blown It? Have We Blown it? The impacts of global warming have been a concern since about 1988. How well has the media done in reporting on this issue? How can it do a better job in the future? Many critics have accused mainstream media of confusing the public by reporting this topic as if the small (and often industry-funded) ‘skeptics’ were as credible as researchers representing the scientific consensus. This phony balance between real scientists and skeptics appears less common now,” the event’s pamphlet reads. “But many people say that journalism is still doing society a disservice, by under-reporting and downplaying the seriousness of the threats of global warming. We’ll look for lessons and advice from people who follow this issue closely.”
The panel includes: Daniel Grossman, contributing editor, National Geographic News Watch; Katherine Bagley with InsideClimate News; Peter Dykstra with Environmental Health News and The Daily Climate; Joseph Romm with ClimateProgress.org and the chief science editor of the Showtime TV series, “Years of Living Dangerously.”
Well yes, I think they have ‘blown it’ in terms of climate change communication, and the stridency and arrogance of the environmental message seems to have hurt rather than helped. Joe Romm’s latest project “Years of living dangerously” is a Celeb-studded documentary uses scientists, everyday Americans to tell less inconvenient truths. Romm’s 8 part documentary is scheduled to air next April. From reading this write-up in EENews, it seems like Romm’s inconvenient truth is that there is little link between weather disasters and climate change.
The article by Bashir et al. is very insightful. Environmental activists such as Romm who are seeking ever more convincing methods to convince a mostly disinterested public to adopt the energy policies he espouses based upon the environmentalists’ dangerous climate change argument are unlikely to succeed based upon Bashir et al’s arguments. Romm is banking on the likability of his characters; this may not work too well since probably all of his characters are identifiable as activists.
Bashir et al.’s arguments also have implications for activist scientists, see these previous threads:
Tamsin’s growing influence in the UK MSM seems to be tied to her likability and explicit lack of policy advocacy. But apart from the issue of effectiveness in communications, scientist activists/advocates risk the perception of their scientific integrity. To me this seems to be a lot to risk, especially for an activity that may be reducing their influence on social change.