Bergen Summer Research School
Course | BSRS 2021

Psychological and Social Science Perspectives on Climate Change

Humans play an essential role in both producing and responding effectively to climate change. This course explores the behavioural and social dimensions of climate change, with a focus on the individual. It covers theories and methodologies from psychology, social sciences, and risk communication disciplines.

Main content

Course leaders
Gisela Böhm, Professor, Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen, Norway.
Ann Bostrom, Weyerhaeuser endowed Professor of Environmental Policy, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
Hans-Rüdiger Pfister, Professor for psychological decision research and method, Leuphana University, Lüneburg, Germany.
Wouter Poortinga, Professor of Environmental Psychology, Welsh School of Architecture and the School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK.

Course lecturers
Karlijn van den Broek (Psychology, University of Utrrecht)
Topic: Mapping mental models

Helge Drange (Climate Science, UiB)
Topic: Latest developments in climate science

Dag Elgesem (Information Technology and Society, UiB)
Topic: Climate change and the media

Usman Isyaku (Human Geography, UiB)
Topic: Research practice

Erling Moxnes (System Dynamics, UiB)
Topic: People and dynamic systems

Robert E. O’Connor (Program Director Decision, Risk and Management Sciences, National Science Foundation, USA).
Topic: Climate policy and policy support

Karl Halvor Teigen (Psychology, University of Oslo).
Topic: Communicating uncertainty

This course will familiarize students with the current state of and new directions in theory, methods and empirical research on human and social dimensions of climate change. Specific topics will be adapted to fit the interests of course participants.

The course adopts an interdisciplinary perspective on individual, community, and political responses to climate. Instruction will be led by an interdisciplinary team of scholars from the social and behavioral sciences including psychology, risk communication and media studies, political sciences, and system dynamics, but also climate sciences. Lecture-style teaching will be complemented with interactive group-based activities, including hands-on experience with research designs and methods.

Learning outcomes
Upon completion of the course, students will:

  • be able to analyze, evaluate and critically assess empirical and theoretical findings from psychological and social science climate research
  • be able to integrate and work across and within disciplines on psychological, social and environmental science topics of relevance to climate change communication
  • recognize and understand the value of qualitative and quantitative research methods for designing and evaluatingclimate change communications
  • be familiar with the interdisciplinary nature and contribution of different social science disciplines to climate change communication research

Participation at the Psychological and Social Science Perspectives on Climate Change is credited under the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), and will give you 4 ECTS. In order to receive credits, we expect full participation in the course-specific modules, plenary events and roundtables. 

Gisela Böhm is professor at the Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen, Norway, and adjunct professor at the Department of Psychology, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Lillehammer, Norway. Her main research interests are risk perception and decision making in the context of environmental risks such as climate change, with a focus on the interplay between risk, morality, and emotion in responses to such risks. A further emphasis is on research methodology with a focus on survey construction, experimental design, and multivariate analysis.

Ann Bostrom is Weyerhaeuser endowed Professor of Environmental Policy in the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. She researches risk perception, risk communication, and decision making under uncertainty, primarily in contexts of environmental risks and policies. Current projects apply mixed research methods to investigate the roles of mental models of hazardous processes—such as climate change, extreme weather, and earthquakes—in risk preferences, decisions, and actions.

Hans-Rüdiger Pfister is professor for psychological decision research and methods at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany, and head of the Institute of Experimental Industrial Psychology (LüneLab). His research interests include the role of emotions in decision making and in risk perception, with an emphasis on affective and moral processes in the perception of societal risks. He is also interested in methodological questions of multivariate data analysis and computational text analysis.

Wouter Poortinga is Professor of Environmental Psychology at the Welsh School of Architecture and the School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK; and co-director of the ESRC-funded Centre for Climate and Social Transformations (CAST). His research interests are in public perceptions of climate change, sustainable lifestyles and behavior, and environment and health research. Wouter has organized a number of comprehensive surveys of public opinion on future energy options and climate change, including the European Social Survey. Other work has focused on attitudinal and behavioral effects of the plastic bag charge, and ways to discourage the use of disposable coffee cups.


Climate Science

Latest developments in climate science (Helge Drange)
New insights in climate science: A 2017-2019 summary. Report produced by Future Earth and the Earth League for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, September 2019. Available at:  https://futureearth.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/New-insights-in-climate-science-a-2017-2019-summary.pdf.

General Overviews

Psychology and climate change
Clayton, S., Devine-Wright, P., Stern, P. C., Whitmarsh, L., Carrico, A., Steg, L., ... & Bonnes, M. (2015). Psychological research and global climate change. Nature Climate Change, 5(7), 640-646.

Weber, E. U. (2016). What shapes perceptions of climate change? New research since 2010. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 7(1), 125-134.)

Environmental Decisions
Newell, B. R., McDonald, R. I., Brewer, M., & Hayes, B. K. (2014). The psychology of environmental decisions. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 39, 443-467.

Risk Communication
Bostrom, A., Böhm, G., & O’Connor, R. O. (2018). Communicating risks: Principles and challenges. In M. Raue, E. Lermer, & B. Streicher (Eds.), Psychological aspects of risk and risk analysis: Theory, models, and applications (pp. 251-277). New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.303.

Perceptions and beliefs

Climate perceptions
Poortinga, W., Whitmarsh, L., Steg, L., Böhm, G., & Fisher, S. (2019). Climate change perceptions and their individual-level determinants: A cross-European analysis. Global Environmental Change, 55, 25-35.

Tvinnereim, E., & Fløttum, K. (2015). Explaining topic prevalence in answers to open-ended survey questions about climate change. Nature Climate Change, 5(August 2015), 744-748. doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE2663

Mental Models
Bostrom, A. (2017). “Mental models and risk perceptions related to climate change,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedias, eds M. C. Nisbet, S. S. Ho, E. Markowitz, S. O’Neill, M. S. Schäfer, and J. Thaker (Oxford: Oxford University Press), doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.303

System Dynamics (Erling Moxnes)
Sterman, J. D., & Sweeney, L. B. (2007). Understanding public complacency about climate change: adults' mental models of climate change violate conservation of matter. Climatic Change, 80(3-4), 213-238. 

Risk Perception
Böhm, G., & Tanner, C. (2019). Environmental risk perception. In L. Steg, & J. I. M. de Groot (Eds.), Environmental psychology: An introduction (pp. 13-25). New York: Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119241072.ch2

Moral Judgment
Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2013). The moral roots of environmental attitudes. Psychological science, 24(1), 56-62.

Chapman, D. A., Lickel, B., & Markowitz, E. M. (2017). Reassessing emotion in climate change communication. Nature Climate Change, 7(12), 850-852.

Böhm, G. (2003). Emotional reactions to environmental risks: Consequentialist versus ethical evaluation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 199-212. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0272-4944(02)00114-7

Czarnek, G., Kossowska, M., & Szwed, P. (2020). Right-wing ideology reduces the effects of education on climate change beliefs in more developed countries. Nature Climate Change, 1-5.

Media & Communication

The role of imagery
Wang, S., Corner, A., Chapman, D., & Markowitz, E. (2018). Public engagement with climate imagery in a changing digital landscape. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 9(2), e509.

Scientific communication
Ogunbode, C. A., Doran, R., & Böhm, G. (2020). Exposure to the IPCC special report on 1.5° C global warming is linked to perceived threat and increased concern about climate change. Climatic Change, 158, 361–375. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02609-0

Communicating uncertainty (Karl Halvor Teigen)
Juanchich, M., Sirota, M., & Bonnefon, J.-F. (2019). Verbal uncertainty. In C. Cummins & N. Katso, The Oxford Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198791768.013.2.  (15 pages)

Framing (Dag Elgesem)
Schäfer, M. S., O'Neill, S., Nisbet, M., Ho, S., Markowitz, E., & Thaker, J. (2017). Frame analysis in climate change communication: approaches for assessing journalists’ minds, online communication and media portrayals. (25 pages)