The association of knowledge with concern about global warming: trusted information sources shape public thinking

Risk Anal. 2009 May;29(5):633-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01220.x. Epub 2009 Mar 12.


During the last decade, a great deal of news media attention has focused on informing the American public about scientific findings on global warming (GW). Has learning this sort of information led the American public to become more concerned about GW? Using data from two surveys of nationally representative samples of American adults, this article shows that the relation between self-reported knowledge and concern about GW is more complex than what previous research has suggested. Among people who trust scientists to provide reliable information about the environment and among Democrats and Independents, increased knowledge has been associated with increased concern. But among people who are skeptical about scientists and among Republicans more knowledge was generally not associated with greater concern. The association of knowledge with concern among Democrats and Independents who trust scientists was mediated by perceptions of consensus among scientists about GW's existence and by perceptions that humans are a principal cause of GW. Moreover, additional analyses of panel survey data produced findings consistent with the notion that more knowledge yields more concern among Democrats and Independents, but not among Republicans. Thus, when studying the relation of knowledge and concern, it is important to take into account the content of the information that different types of people acquire and choose to rely upon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Information Services*
  • Knowledge*
  • Politics
  • Public Opinion*