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The psychology behind the denial

Kirsti Jylhä’s research shows that the denial of climate change is not a matter of political orientation or gender.

New psychological research from Uppsala University shows that people who deny climate change also often see hierarchies as unavoidable and natural.

Research has shown that humans are impacting the climate more today than ever before. But despite the research findings, there are still groups of people who in one way or another deny this knowledge. In the climate debate, conservative men are often regarded as the climate change deniers, which stems from the fact that there is a statistical over-representation of conservative men in this group. But psychological research shows that this is a far too simplified picture. There are psychological factors that are more important than political orientation or gender.

“We should stop talking so much about conservative men in the climate issue,” says Kirsti Jylhä, Researcher at the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University. “Our research shows that it is less relevant to think about gender or political ideologies than it is to study people’s social dominance orientation (SDO).”
“High SDO is more common among, but not limited to, men and politically conservative individuals. After statistically controlling for the effect of SDO on denial, the effect of gender and political orientation significantly decreases or disappears completely. This means that conservative men are not more likely to deny climate changes than other people unless they also have a higher SDO.”

Social dominance orientation is a measure of a person’s attitude towards group-based hierarchy and dominance. A person with a high SDO is usually characterised by a dominant personality with low empathy. They accept inequalities between different groups, such as within a country or between countries. They also tend to accept human dominance over nature. Often, they see the world in terms of competition, where hierarchies are inevitable and natural.
“People with a high SDO also have a greater tendency to deny the climate problem. This is not necessarily motivated by any type of malice but instead stems from how they view the world, including in hierarchical terms. They often may not see the climate problem as a question of injustice. It is possible that they do not want to change their lifestyle and don’t feel that they need to care about those who are affected because it is natural that some people in the world have it better and others have it worse.”