Although the scientific community has a large consensus on issues such as climate change, the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, or whether the Earth is round, this consensus shines through to the general public in its absence.
One might think that denying scientific facts is due to simple ignorance or ignorance of the particular question. However, an approach has been proposed that emphasizes the fear of solutions centered on these problems to explain their denial.
This approach is that of the solution aversion model, Which has been approached experimentally with the specific case of climate change and conservatism. We will see this in more detail below.
What is solution aversion?
Right now there are all kinds of topics which in turn generate all kinds of opinions. However, science, from its empirical and objective point of view, has shown the existence of multiple problems which, if left unresolved or have some type of palliative effect, will be aggravated. Among these problems we can find the emergence of epidemics, both due to pathogens and bad habits, the increase in gun killings or climate change.
While science can prove the existence of these phenomena by recording facts and performing statistical analyzes in a timely manner, there is always someone who questions them. In the specific case of climate change, there aren’t a few people, with a conservative ideological profile, who dare to say that conventional science is wrong, that there is no evidence that the planet is really warming up and that it was caused by man. action.
On this basis, American researchers Troy Campbell, specializing in marketing, and Aaron C. Key, expert in psychology and neuroscience, were interviewed. how was it possible that in the face of an event as scientifically proven as climate change, there are people who completely deny it.
These researchers noted that people tend to believe in problems the solutions that we agree with and, conversely, we do not believe in those problems that involve solutions that are very contrary to our way of thinking or that interfere with our way of thinking. life.
This approach helped them set up a new perspective: the solution aversion model. With this model, they sought to elucidate a little more why people were so polarized on issues that the scientific community has a broad consensus.
Afraid of the problem or afraid of the solution?
Logically, it would appear that the accuracy and veracity of a scientific discovery it should be independent of whether this finding and its consequences are desirable or not. To put it simply: if a stone falls on our head, that stone will hurt us. The fact that it hurts us is an unintended consequence of a stone falling on our heads. While we don’t want to feel pain, we won’t question the stone’s existence or doubt that this mineral could fall on our heads and hurt us.
However, climate change, the effectiveness of vaccines, the danger of guns and other issues of broad scientific consensus are not as simple as an accidentally malicious stone. they are Very complex problems the solution may involve a large mobilization of political, economic and social resources which can directly conflict with our lifestyle in case we want to provide a solution.
Research has shown that psychological motivations affect our reasoning. It makes our judgments not independent of our personal desires and motivations. Even if they put before our eyes a scientific and objective fact, if the proposed solution for the same conflicts with our ideology, our belief system, our opinion or other cognitive, affective and motivational components of our identity, we will be more likely to deny the existence of the problem.
An example: climate change and republicans
It is well known that not a few Republicans (conservatives) in the United States deny climate change and its anthropogenic cause.
They are skeptical about this issue, despite the fact that earth sciences have shown, through hard data and measurements of temperature and air pollutants, that global warming is indeed happening. On the other hand, this view is not shared by their rivals, the Democrats (liberals), who tend to agree with the scientific community and support the implementation of climate change mitigation measures.
The denial of climate change by some and the recognition of others seem, in the first place, to be due to differences in their scientific knowledge. One might think that Republicans have a lower level of scientific knowledge than Democrats, resulting in the former having opinions based on ignorance or anti-scientific beliefs. Democrats, on the other hand, were reportedly given more influence and documentation on the issue, basing their opinions on facts.
however, that Republicans deny the existence of climate change seems to be a reasoned question, not a question of ignorance. Nor would it be due to the fear of climate change itself. Not that they fear that the sea level will rise or that the air will become unbreathable, but rather that they are afraid of the solutions to be applied to reduce this phenomenon, and that is where it comes into play. idea aversion to the solution.
Campbell and Key’s group approached this question experimentally, concluding that indeed, among Republican ranks, climate change denial is due to a motivated cognition style. This could explain the fact that despite the existence of documentaries, studies, books and all kinds of resources in which the facts are presented on this issue, these media have not had as much repercussion among conservative minds.
Republicans tend to be very supportive of the free market and the more aggressive meritocracy. For them, the success of a person is solely and exclusively due to his efforts. This effort which materializes in large sums of money and, in many cases, in the possession of a large company, more concerned with profits than with its pollution.
The problem with climate change for the ideal lifestyle of the Republican citizen is that it involves taking political and economic actions that regulate the free market, which no big business wants. Among these measures, there would be apply taxes to pollute, more government economic control and less commercial freedom, increased value of cars and a ban on selling X amount per year … In short, measures that could reduce the income of companies very significantly.
Democrats, on the other hand, are less concerned with regulating the market and are even in favor of intervention. Thus, for the democratic way of life, greater regulation of the market is far from posing a serious problem to their way of life, rather in favor of the distribution of goods and doing everything necessary to offer a better future to society, even if it involves economic sacrifices.
- Campbell, TH and Kay, AC (2014). Aversion to the solution: on the relationship between ideology and motivated disbelief. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107 (5), 809-824. https://doi-org.sire.ub.edu/10.1037/a0037963.