Connecting the Dots on Climate Response

Cognitive science, not climate science, may hold the clue for how to engage the public to recognize and address the threats posed by climate change.

Cognitive science, not climate science, may hold the clue for how to engage the public to recognize and address the threats posed by climate change.

The effects of climate change are palpable, but the response by a large swath of people has been tepid. A new psychological paper offers an explanation – we are all like frogs in a pot of water being brought to a boil. We can tell our environment is heating up, but not enough to hop out of the pot.

The insights developed by Sander van der Linden, Edward Maibach and Anthony Leiserwitz could offer clues for how to connect the dots between what some view as the greatest threat to human existence and a public that ranks global warming as less important than jobs and defending against terrorists.

As reported on NPR, the paper written by three psychologists highlights five features of human thought patterns that may account for the mismatch between urgent calls for climate action and widespread public disengagement on the issue. Here is a quick summary of their insights:

•  People respond to personal experiences more than abstractions. Climate action champions use statistics, trends and other abstract references to describe the problem, which fail to connect with everyday reality for many people.

•  Climate change is an enormous global issue that can intimidate people who feel as if they are powerless to make a difference. Individual efforts to drive less, curb water use or increase recycling may be viewed as useful, but only a "drop in the bucket."

•  Humans react differently to immediate threats than to future ones. Imminent threats demand some action, while threats further into the future allow procrastination and even denial.

•  People think differently about potential losses and potential gains. The psychologists say climate activists would do better if they stressed the potential gains of responding proactively to a changing climate.

•  Appealing to people's intrinsic motivation to promote well-bring may be more effective than encouraging a certain kind of extrinsic pro-environmental behavior. It is the difference of being a steward instead of environmental policeman of your own world.

Tania Lombrozo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote the NPR commentary, said, "Climate change is often presented as an abstract, uncertain cost, distant in space and time, and requiring external incentives to motivate individual action. Psychological research suggests this is an especially dangerous combination, sure to make people underestimate the risk and unlikely to compel them to action."

"Instead, policymakers and science communicators might do well to focus on the concrete manifestations of climate change in our own experience, the consequences of warming that are affecting our communities here and now, and the ways our current actions can be tied to gains, rather than losses," she counsels.

One of Lombrozo's most compelling points is that it may take advances in cognitive science, rather than climate science, to stimulate a muscular response to global warming. "It's time to recognize the critical role for the social sciences," she writes, "in dealing with global warming, an issue that certainly ought to be a top priority for the President and Congress." 

For most Americans, Thanksgiving isn’t the only time for thankfulness

Thanksgiving is a time when Americans are supposed to reflect on what they are thankful for.

But it’s not the only time they do so. A large majority of Americans (78%) feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness on a weekly basis, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. And only 6% of Americans say they seldom or never experience these feelings.

That being said, some groups are more likely than others to express gratitude. For example, 84% of women regularly feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness, compared to 72% of men. And nearly nine-in-ten Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical Protestants – traditionally some of the most observant religious groups – say they feel gratitude or thankfulness at least once a week.

While the survey question about gratitude did not ask explicitly about gratitude to God, regular feelings of gratitude are more common among those who are highly religious than among those who are not. For example, eight-in-ten or more Americans who believe in God, or who say religion is “very” or “somewhat” important in their lives, experience feelings of gratitude or thankfulness on a weekly basis. About nine-in-ten Americans who regularly attend religious services, pray, participate in prayer groups or read scripture say they regularly feel a strong sense of gratitude.

Among Americans who seldom or never participate in these activities, smaller majorities report feeling gratitude and thankfulness. For instance, among Americans who do not believe in God, 58% say they regularly feel a sense of gratitude. And roughly six-in-ten (62%) Americans who say that religion is “not too” or “not at all important” express these feelings.

In addition, feelings of gratitude are common among a wide variety of groups. For example, more than three quarters of Americans with less than a college education (77%) as well as those with a college degree (79%) feel gratitude and thankfulness on a weekly basis. And those at the low end of the economic ladder — adults who earn less than $30,000 per year — are equally as likely as better-off Americans to regularly feel thankful.

Polling Versus Probabilities

Donald Trump and Ben Carson still lead the national polls, but the real question is what are the true probabilities of ever being elected President.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson still lead the national polls, but the real question is what are the true probabilities of ever being elected President.

Republican presidential candidates, especially those left off the main stage podium for debates, have groused about the use of national polls to determine who is on and who is off.

National polls for some time now have placed Donald Trump and Ben Carson at the top of the GOP heap, positioning them center stage in debates and as prime candidates for earned media exposure. But do national polls a year out from the actual election really tell much of a story?

Nate Silver, the founder and editor of popular number-crunching blog site FiveThirtyEight, suggests that looking at probabilities would be more useful at this point. In an online chat on his site, Silver said there is basically a 50-50 chance for either the Democratic or Republican party to win an election following a two-term presidency. The key to projecting ahead, he says, is to evaluate what could sway the probabilities one way or another.

One influence identified in the online chat is the favorability rating of President Obama. His ranking has trended up to around 46 percent, which Silver says may mean that he won't have much tipping capacity either way.

The most significant factor, Silver says, is whether Republicans nominate a conservative (he names Ted Cruz, Ben Carson or Donald Trump). If one of them is the standard-bearer, Silver thinks Hillary Clinton, assuming she wins the Democratic presidential nomination, would have the "clear edge." That edge could widen if Republicans nominate a more centrist candidate and a conservative mounts an independent challenge.

Handicapping the electoral potential of candidates is something political polls don't do. They provide snapshots over time of how well a candidate is doing relative to his or her competitors.

The candidates, or at least most of them, recognize this. Rick Santorum, who is mired at near zero in national polls even though he won the Iowa caucus vote in 2012, told "Face the Nation" recently that polling fails to take into account residual support and the effectiveness of a ground game campaign strategy. Santorum also said national polls are meaningless and all that matters is how Iowans cast their votes on a cold winter night in January.

State-specific polls generally have reflected the dominance of Trump and Carson, but they aren't so firm that they couldn't change suddenly depending on who wins or does well in Iowa and the follow-on primary in New Hampshire.

The Iowa and New Hampshire votes are expected to accelerate the dropout rate in the still large GOP field of candidates. For example, if Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus vote in 2008, dropped out, who is best positioned to pick up his supporters in other states? Ditto for the departure of a major candidate like Jeb Bush.

A smaller cast of candidates would focus the choice Republican voters have to make, which could dramatically alter poll results.

Which brings us back to Silver and his reliance on probabilities, not polling. If you were going to the racetrack to pick a winner, you would agree with Silver and look at a horse's potential, not its popularity.

Customer Panels Deliver Quick, Trusted Feedback

Online panel research offers many advantages, but none are any more important than delivering quality findings you can trust in only 24 hours.

Online panel research offers many advantages, but none are any more important than delivering quality findings you can trust in only 24 hours.

CFM was asked to evaluate two print ads and a companion digital ad just days before they were due to launch. Turning to our client's existing online panel, which we helped create, CFM was able to produce solid findings in less than 24 hours, after questions and format were approved. The client thought five days was all it could spare. It was stunned to get results within a day.

In this case, the findings gave a thumbs up to the ads, along with some valuable suggestions, such as adding clearly visible contact information. That's something creative types can forget, but is crucial for the eyeballs of those intended to see the ads.

This quick, on-point feedback reassured senior executives to give the ads the go-ahead. They acted based on solid information. Online customer panels made sure they got the information they needed and deserved when they needed it.

This kind of online research using panels allows CFM to conduct research among targeted groups quickly, accurately and inexpensively and provide clients with information worth knowing.

Panel Research and Engagement: A Perfect Fit

Check out panel research to see whether its information-rich benefits match your need to understand and engage a key audience.

Check out panel research to see whether its information-rich benefits match your need to understand and engage a key audience.

Panel research and engagement go together. You can gain feedback, share information and reap the benefits of extended conversations.

There really isn't any other formal research technique that can deliver that full set of benefits.

The research technique used always should match the objective of the research. Panel research works best under these conditions:

  • You want a large, representative sample of opinion from — for example — your customer database or registered voters.

  • You want the ability to segment your sample for follow-up research based on answers they give, not random selection.

  • You want to engage people in an extended dialogue, with repeat conversations about multiple products or in-depth discussion of an evolving piece of legislation.

Web-based panel research offers other virtues, such as the ability of respondents to answer survey questions at their leisure, not when someone calls them on the phone, or to participate in an online focus group instead of trooping to a hotel room equipped with a camera and cold sandwiches.

While erasing time and space concerns is valuable, the bedrock value of panel research lies in its capacity to engage. You can do more than ask questions. You can cultivate the panel by sharing the findings of the survey they participated in, asking follow-up questions or soliciting their volunteered thoughts.

Unlike a phone call during dinnertime, panel research isn't intrusive. It is inclusive. Respondents can participate at noon or midnight. They can offer more than the one answer to a multiple-choice question. They can ask questions and seek answers. Your research goes from an uneasy transaction to satisfying involvement. 

Two-way involvement is a very different quality than you get from a traditional telephone poll, in-person survey or point-of-sale intercept. The richness of information that panel can yield is the argument for doing it.

Not all situations require rich information. But many do. Panel research is worth exploring to see whether it is the right choice to meet your challenge.

The Emerging Gig Economy

The technology-aided trend to freelance instead of staying at a full-time, salaried job is already providing economically disruptive and promises to be more so in the future.

The technology-aided trend to freelance instead of staying at a full-time, salaried job is already providing economically disruptive and promises to be more so in the future.

Trends in the so-called "gig economy" may confound our notions of full- and part-time work. We tend to lionize full-time work, even though increasing numbers of workers say they prefer part-time jobs. That growing preference may actually obscure what's really going on – a wave of small-scale entrepreneurship where people or small groups compete for gigs.

Freelancing has been enabled by technology and the rise of companies that facilitate connections. Thumbtack arranges introductions between a freelancer and a job. Etsy provides an online marketplace for home-based, individual jewelry, clothing and accessory makers. Elance posts one-off opportunities that freelancers can choose to chase.

The gig economy includes on-demand services, such as Munchery in San Francisco that employs chefs and drivers to make and deliver meals of your choice. The gig economy is a close cousin to the sharing economy where technology allows people to provide services such as ride sharing or room rentals through online companies that don't own cars or beds.

These new "jobs" defy classification in typical jobs reports, where full-time work is the holy grail and part-time work is an indicator of a weak economy. The gig and sharing economies are what economists call "disruptive."

As reported by The New York Times, politicians are flocking to meet with this new group of cyber pioneers to understand the nuances of the gig economy. Meanwhile, regulators are trying to parse whether gig and sharing economy workers – along with workers at franchise operations – are employees or independent contractors. That could make a difference on a range of issues from the minimum wage to personal liability.

The gig economy may be its own response to economic disruption. The job market these days is less stable and long-term, so instead of always being on the lookout for a better job, why not set up shop at home and look for projects or business opportunities?

Other factors also come into play, such as the need to provide care for a child or an elderly parent. Working from home can save a lot of money and heartache without sacrificing the ability to make a buck. For some, the gig economy allows a person to leverage a skill or talent for profit that is undervalued in the traditional job market.

There is an economic irony to these legions of freelancers. They may in the aggregate succeed in removing at least some of the economic power from industrial and commercial titans. Freelancers sacrifice a salaried job in return for pursuing independent work that suits them and their life circumstances. They give up guaranteed pay, but also built-in expenses such as commuting, child care and time away from home.

Small business owners can relate to this kind of risk-taking, which can result in rewards or sorrows. Apparently, many Americans think the risk is worth it, especially in light of the risks of getting and keeping the perfect job.

The gig economy is likely to challenge already overwhelmed educators on how to prepare a new generation for the world of work. It also will call into question our social safety net that was largely designed to work like a seat belt for a full-time worker.