Time and skeptical opinion content erode the effects of science coverage on climate beliefs and attitudes

June 21, 2022

PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Although experiments show that exposure to factual information can increase factual accuracy, the public remains stubbornly misinformed about many issues. Why do misperceptions persist even when factual interventions generally succeed at increasing the accuracy of people’s beliefs? Researchers seek to answer this question by testing the role of information exposure and decay effects in a four-wave panel experiment (n = 2,898 at wave 4) in which we randomize the media content that people in the United States see about climate change. The results indicate that science coverage of climate change increases belief accuracy and support for government action immediately after exposure, including among Republicans and people who reject anthropogenic climate change. However, both effects decay over time and can be attenuated by exposure to skeptical opinion content (but not issue coverage featuring partisan conflict). These findings demonstrate that the increases in belief accuracy generated by science coverage are short lived and can be neutralized by skeptical opinion content.

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