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Study Suggests ‘Familiarity with Greta’ drives Climate Activism

by Eric Worrall

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests people are more likely to act on climate change if they are familiar with Greta Thunberg, though the authors admit it is possible the explanation is people who want to act on climate change seek out familiarity with Greta.

Greta Thunberg effect: people familiar with young climate activist may be more likely to act

February 5, 2021 2.19am AEDT

Anandita Sabherwal PhD Student in Psychological and Behavioural Science, London School of Economics and Political Science

Sander van der Linden Professor of Social Psychology in Society and Director, Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, University of Cambridge

Based on a nationally representative survey of over 1,300 US adults, our studyfound that Americans who report being more familiar with Greta Thunberg also feel more confident that they can help mitigate climate change as part of a collective effort. They are also more willing to take action themselves, by contacting elected officials or giving time and money to campaigns. We call this the Greta Thunberg effect.

But what if the Greta Thunberg effect is actually operating the other way? Did we instead find that people who are already more likely to act on climate change are just more familiar with Greta Thunberg? We can’t be certain because this type of study can’t prove cause and effect, it can only show associations. But statistical tests showed that this reverse explanation did not explain the data as well as our original one. Of course, reality may be more complex than what our models can capture. A positive feedback loop – where both explanations operate in tandem to inspire climate action – is also possible.

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The abstract of the study;

The Greta Thunberg Effect: Familiarity with Greta Thunberg predicts intentions to engage in climate activism in the United States

Anandita SabherwalMatthew T. BallewSander van der LindenAbel GustafsonMatthew H. GoldbergEdward W. MaibachJohn E. KotcherJanet K. SwimSeth A. RosenthalAnthony Leiserowitz

Despite Greta Thunberg’s popularity, research has yet to investigate her impact on the public’s willingness to take collective action on climate change. Using cross‐sectional data from a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults (N = 1,303), we investigate the “Greta Thunberg Effect, or whether exposure to Greta Thunberg predicts collective efficacy and intentions to engage in collective action. We find that those who are more familiar with Greta Thunberg have higher intentions of taking collective actions to reduce global warming and that stronger collective efficacy beliefs mediate this relationship. This association between familiarity with Greta Thunberg, collective efficacy beliefs, and collective action intentions is present even after accounting for respondents’ overall support for climate activism. Moderated mediation models testing age and political ideology as moderators of the “Greta Thunberg Effect” indicate that although the indirect effect of familiarity with Greta Thunberg via collective efficacy is present across all age‐groups, and across the political spectrum, it may be stronger among those who identify as more liberal (than conservative). Our findings suggest that young public figures like Greta Thunberg may motivate collective action across the U.S. public, but their effect may be stronger among those with a shared political ideology. Implications for future research and for broadening climate activists’ appeals across the political spectrum are discussed.

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For what it is worth I think Greta has galvanised lots of young people to protest – but I suspect she mostly only appeals to people who are already believers.

I tried watching Greta’s speeches a few times, it was not a pleasant experience – like watching a toddler in a store throw a public temper tantrum, except with more words.

Climate activists from what I have seen walk a fine line between anger and despair; they are just as nasty towards fellow activists who who have lost all hope as they are towards unbelievers.

Greta is likely a real asset to leaders trying to manage climate extremists dancing on the edge of despair, because Greta seems to push them towards activism.