Romantic Partners Can Influence Each Other’s Assumptions and Behaviors on Climate Change, Study Finds

Yale Study Finds Just 38% Climate Belief Similarity Between Partners

A couple stand on a sandbar at Grays Beach in Massachusetts, where effects of climate change are apparent in the beach’s erosion
A couple stand on a sandbar at low tide at Grays Beach in Yarmouth, Massachusetts in 2019, as effects of climate change are apparent in the beach’s erosion. John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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Romantic partners can be the sounding boards for each other’s thoughts on all sorts of issues, including the climate crisis. But, until recently, there hadn’t been much examination of whether one partner’s views on climate change could influence the other’s.

A research team led by the Yale School of the Environment’s Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) conducted a survey and found that conversations between romantic partners can have an influence on each other’s climate change beliefs.

“We wanted to see if there’s potential for couples to increase support for pro-climate policies and behaviors through more conversations about climate change,” said associate research scientist at the YPCCC Matthew Goldberg, who was the lead author on the study, a press release from the Yale School of the Environment said.

The study, “Perceptions and correspondence of climate change beliefs and behavior among romantic couples,” was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

For their research, the team asked 758 romantic couples questions to find out how much they understood one another’s viewpoints on climate change and how much their perceptions aligned.

Questions posed to each partner included whether they post about climate change on social media or donate to climate organizations, and if they’re concerned about climate change. Participants were then asked to speculate on what their partner’s responses would be.

The results of the survey showed that partners had some similarities in their behaviors and beliefs on the subject of climate change, but that there was also a great deal of disagreement.

The study found that climate behaviors lined up in just 31 percent of the couples, and only 38 percent of them held similar climate beliefs. Couples who discussed climate change were found to have a truer understanding of each other’s climate ideology. This indicated discussions about climate change could be an opportunity to impact each other’s beliefs on the subject.

Goldberg told The Daily Beast that it wasn’t common for individuals to discuss climate change with family and friends even if it was a subject they were passionate about.

A framework called Global Warming’s Six Americas was used by the researchers to categorize the climate change beliefs of the survey participants into six categories: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful or dismissive.

The results showed that while it was very rare for partners to have completely opposing views on climate change, in more than a third of couples the beliefs of one partner were categorized as “alarmed,” while the other partner was somewhat less concerned or engaged, the press release said.

“When we found that it was common for one partner to be alarmed about climate change and the other partner only moderately concerned, that showed us that there is indeed substantial room for pro-climate influence among romantic partners,” Goldberg said to The Daily Beast.

Communication between partners is a powerful way to help each other engage with the climate crisis in a way that is more personal than media or the internet.

“Mass communication is critical but might not be the most effective way to shift public support on climate change,” said Goldberg in the press release. “A partner knows their partner infinitely better than some unknown communicator — and knows how to harness the issues that their partner cares about to engage them in action on climate change.”

The findings of the study could be also useful in helping people engage with the issue of climate change in relationships other than romantic ones, Goldberg said.

“Lots of people are very worried about climate change, but they’re not talking about it,” Goldberg said. “Discussing climate change can bring more people into alignment — and increase engagement.”

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