Back in December, I covered a study that found no correlation between intelligence and attitudes to climate change: Europeans of higher intelligence were neither more nor less likely than those of lower intelligence to take the ‘alarmist’ position on that issue.
A new study by Hannes Zacher and Cort Rudolph brings a similarly intriguing result.
In October of 2022, the researchers gave an environmental knowledge test to a sample of about 2,300 Germans. The test comprised 35 multiple-choice items. (It is given in full in the Supplementary Material for this paper.) One of the items is shown below:
The correct answer is shown with an X. Other items included, ‘What is the meaning of the abbreviation CO2?’ and ‘Which energy form is a renewable form of energy?’
One month later, the researchers asked respondents to complete a 13-item measure of ‘climate anxiety’. (About 2,000 of them took part in both waves of the survey.) Items included ‘Thinking about climate change makes it difficult for me to concentrate’ and ‘I find myself crying because of climate change’. All 13 are listed below:
So what did Zacher and Cort discover? There was a moderate, negative association between the two variables (r = –.34). Respondents with better environmental knowledge scored lower on the measure of climate anxiety. The association is shown in the chart below:
You might say, “the cloud of points is a mess”, but that’s just what a correlation of r = –.34 looks like. Interestingly, when the researchers examined climate knowledge in particular, they found that that too was negatively associated with climate anxiety. Respondents with better climate knowledge again scored lower, although in this case the correlation was somewhat weaker at r = –.24.
Environmental knowledge remained a statistically significant predictor of climate anxiety even when the researchers controlled for basic demographic characteristics, measures of personality, and a measure of pro-environmental attitudes (i.e., believing we should do more for the environment) in a multivariate analysis.
It should be noted that pro-environmental attitudes did have a positive association with environmental knowledge, though the correlation was very weak (r = .15).
Overall, Zacher and Cort’s study suggests that anxiety over the issue of climate change does not stem from greater knowledge of the environment or of the climate in particular. In fact, the most knowledgeable people are somewhat less anxious, on average. As the researchers point out, this suggests that improving people’s knowledge could help to reduce anxiety – particularly among the young.
Read More: People with Better Environmental Knowledge Suffer Less ‘Climate Anxiety’