Our Cultural Worldview Is Our Reality

Peter Leavitt


by Peter Leavitt, visiting assistant professor of psychology

Building consensus around climate change means convincing people with highly variable positions on the topic to adopt a single position (or close to it). When attempting this, we often think that merely sharing information with others should convince them. We think this because the information is convincing to us and because we assume the accuracy of the information speaks for itself. However, we often fail to fully appreciate the fundamental differences in the way we each understand reality and, thus, the way we evaluate evidence about climate change. Consequently, the common result of mere evidence sharing is failure to persuade, attitude entrenchment and frustration all around.

We would do well to remember that the persuasiveness of any piece of evidence about climate change depends not only on its objective correctness but also on the psychological perspective of the person viewing it. The correctness and value of evidence about climate change depends, in a very literal sense, on how our cultural worldview allows us to interpret it. For some of us, climate science data from the EPA are easy to trust and understand because the type and source of information is consistent with our worldviews and experience. For others, such data seem foreign and untrustworthy and are quite reasonably rejected as inconsistent with their view of reality.

So, if persuasion about climate change is the goal, consider the following: Will my audience have the ability and motivation to understand my evidence and put it in context? Will my audience trust me and the source of my evidence? Might my audience possess other values and priorities that render my evidence less important or urgent? In short, does my attempt at persuasion account for cultural worldview differences in evidence evaluation?