Us and Them: The Psychology Behind Xenophobia and the Muslim Ban


The Merriam-Wesbter dictionary defines xenophobia as a “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.” The next print edition for the publication will definitely reference Trump’s immigrant and refugee ban as the perfect illustration of xenophobia. The fact that a president could ban an entire religion from distinct countries only promotes xenophobia while also highlighting the intense paranoia that our leader feels of outsiders. So how can somebody become xenophobic to the point of isolating themselves, and our country, from the rest of the world?

Psychology has long researched the idea of xenophobia, especially after tragic events such as the Holocaust and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The recent political climate has again stirred interest in nationwide prejudice, bringing evidence back into the spotlight as to how xenophobia can override common sense and logic. Here are some common discussions surrounding the psychology behind xenophobia:

We Have to Look Back to Look Forward

Sorry Christians, but humans did not appear on Earth in perfect form. We have spent millions of years evolving from common ancestors such as apes. It should come as no surprise that the evolutionary adaptations necessary to survive back in caveman days are still present in our highly evolved brains.

“Us vs. Them” grew from an evolutionary need during our days as apes and humanoid cavemen.

“I think there’s probably a very deep-rooted fear and suspicion of outsiders,” says Michael Wilson, a primatologist at the University of Minnesota.

The scientist, who studies apes for a living, cites behavior in apes as evidence for our hostility to people who belong to other groups. When two groups of apes bump into each other in the wild, it will always end in conflict. According to Wilson, the apes will threaten each other with loud calls, perform aggressive gestures and at times become physically violent.

Remember Harambe? When a little boy fell into the gorilla sanctuary at Cincinnati Zoo he grabbed the boy and began to drag him throughout the moat in the exhibit. Zoo officials reacted immediately to save the boy because they knew how territorial apes are by design. Harambe saw a boy, an outsider, as an immediate threat and dealt with this the only way his brain could let him: through violence. Whether he would actually kill the boy is indeterminable, but evolutionary psychology bets that after interacting with the boy more the violence would escalate.


RIP Harambe

“If they can grab a member of the other community, they may beat on them, bite them, and continue doing so until they’re very severely injured or killed,” says Wilson of apes.

Wilson goes on to say that it makes sense that chimps defend their territories so vigilantly. A bigger territory leads to more food for the group and a better chance for survival.

The idea of protecting one’s territory is one aspect of apes that passed on to early humans. Before the invention of civilizations, humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies where one’s group had to work together for survival. No doubt the early humans had to protect their food and shelter from not just animal predators, but from other groups who would poach food for themselves. The need to protect one’s group, and conversely the hatred of other groups, came from the need to survive, and this would be imprinted in our brains for the rest of time.

We Can Be Prejudiced on the Most Arbitrary of Traits

In a hallmark experiment, schoolteacher Jane Elliott wanted to teach her class what it felt like to be prejudiced against after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Elliott proclaimed to the class that the blue-eyed students were superior to their brown-eyed peers by stating that:

“Blue-eyed people are the better people in this room. Blue-eyed people are smarter than brown-eyed people… this is a fact: blue eyed people are better than brown-eyed people… the blue-eyed people get five extra minutes of recess while the brown-eyed people have to stay in. The brown-eyed people do not get to use the drinking fountain, you’ll have to use paper cups. You brown-eyed people are not to play with the blue-eyed people on the playground because you are not as good as blue eyed people.”


Elliott went on to say that brown-eyed people were to wear collars to identify them more easily (similar to how Jews had to wear stars of David during the Holocaust). When the students were asked to open their books to start a lesson, brown-eyed people were slower to do so. When Ms. Elliott declared that her yard stick was missing, students in the class pointed out that a brown-eyed person probably stole it. The blue-eyed students bullied the brown-eyed students by declaring that they weren’t smart, should be beaten if they disobeyed, and that they don’t deserve seconds at lunch.

The treatment of the brown-eyed children had a demonstrable effect on their own behavior. One student remarked that: “It seemed like when we were down on the bottom everything bad was happening to us. The way they treated you, it felt like you didn’t even want to try to do anything.” The brown-eyed students started to perform worse on phonetic tests, they began hitting the children who called them names and refused to answer questions in class.

To further test how easy it is to create prejudice, Elliott reversed the proclamation, stating that it was actually the brown-eyed children who were better than their blue-eyed counterparts. The results were strikingly similar with now the blue-eyed children performing worse on tests, being picked on, and not wanting to participate in class.

Elliott’s unconventional experiment shows how groups can be formed on the simplest of traits. The children never saw eye color as a basis for discrimination before, but were emboldened by a superior (their teacher) to form these ingroups and outgroups based on eye color.

For the naysayers that believe this is only because they are children, studies have shown that when minorities are presented with an identifying question before a standardized test (i.e. what is your race?) they perform significantly worse than when such a question was absent. In addition, the prejudices that we form in childhood are much harder to get rid of in adulthood, as seen in an earlier post here.

When We Are Fearful, We Think Threats Are Much Closer than They Are

Researchers from New York University conducted three studies on which people were asked to estimate how close immediate threats are to them.

In the first study, fans of the New York Yankees were asked to estimate how far away Fenway Stadium (home of their rivals the Boston Red Sox) is to NYU, and asked the same question to students who did not identify as fans of Derek Jeter’s old team. Researchers found that Yankees fans believed Fenway to be closer than the non-Yankee fans.


In the second study, researchers presented half of participants with information that portrayed Columbia University as threatening to NYU students while the other half received no such information. The students who were given negative information about Columbia rated the university as being physically closer to NYU than the students who did not receive incriminating information.


Finally in the third study, Americans who perceived Mexican immigrants as a threat to the United States estimated New Mexico City as closer to New York City than those who did not perceive a threat.


These studies combined give a clear indication that those who fear outside groups observe a more eminent threat than reality actually imposes. This falls in line with the psychological theory called the representative heuristic.  This states that things that happen in the media are more likely to happen then in normal probability.

This is why people are more afraid to ride in planes than cars: the national media covers more plane crashes than car crashes, making it seem as if they happen more often than in reality. The national news is more likely to cover a shooting or an attack that is committed by a terrorist group than a local American. Take for example the “terrorist” who attacked Ohio State University last year. He did not actually kill anyone, but Trump and other politicians called for more extreme vetting for refugees after. A local shooting carried out by a local citizen may kill five or ten people and only make it to the local news by comparison. The idea that terrorists are all over, as perpetuated by the media, can override comparable statistics saying that it is far more likely to get struck by lightning than to be confronted by a terrorist.


We Are Able to Dehumanize Humans, No Matter How Much They Look Like Us

When critics of Michelle and Barrack Obama lash out at the two dignified leaders calling them apes, it is not just evidence of racism, but of dehumanization. These people do not even see the leaders of our country as human, due to the fact that they are in a different social group.


Dehumanization first appeared in our vocabularies during the Holocaust in which Jews were deprived of their names and given a number instead. Germans stood by Hitler as they no longer saw the Jews as people, neighbors and friends, but as workers indebted to the Reich.

Psychologists have found that dehumanization exists far after Auschwitz closed its doors. Psychologists from Northwestern University have studied dehumanization as recently as 2015. In their paper The Ascent of Man: Theoretical and Empirical Evidence for Blatant Dehumanization, researchers looked into how Americans viewed Americans, Arabs, Canadians, Chinese, European and Muslim groups using their ascent measures.

Unsurprisingly, Europeans, and Japanese were rated as similarly evolved to Americans whereas South Koreans, Chinese, and Mexican Immigrants were rated as significantly less evolved than Americans. Arabs and Muslims were rated as 10.6 and 14.0 points less evolved than Americans respectively.


The researchers then decided to see if dehumanization is more present after tragic world events than when they completed the first study. Three days after the Boston Marathon bombings, the scientists asked participants the same survey questions for two weeks. Not only did Americans still rate Arabs as less evolved, but blatant dehumanization measures increased as well, symbolizing that Americans dehumanized Arabs as less than human more significantly after perceiving a threat.


But Not All Hope Is Lost

The American Psychological Association has published a set of guidelines in response to a conference on racism held at the United Nations. Psychologists break down solutions to solving the problems into two categories: exposing racism’s roots and socializing people for tolerance and peace. The guidelines are as followed:

Exposing racism’s roots:

  • Acknowledge racist practices and urge major institutions to fight them.
  • Establish institutes on racial equity and mental health promotion.
  • Eliminate racist bias in research.
  • Reduce racism-related physical and mental health disparities
  • Conduct more research on perpetrators

Socializing people for tolerance and peace:

  • Collect statistical data on race that takes into account “economic and social indicators, including…mental and physical health care” to help close social and economic gaps
  • Bolster measures “to fulfill the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” by working to eliminate racism-induced health disparities.
  • Promote fair treatment and respect for migrants, refugees and indigenous peoples.
  • Increase tolerance and diversity
  • Stop trafficking of women and children
  • End racial profiling and discrimination on the part of law enforcement and government officials
  • Fight xenophobia, gender and racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance


If we can change our society to enforce these rules, if we can learn to have empathy for other groups, if we can learn to look at correct statistics instead of relying on emotions and lies, then the road to eliminating xenophobia will be far less bumpy. We have to start seeing the refugees and immigrants as actual people, as someone’s parent, child, friend, and not as just people from the other side of the world, even if our leader is incapable of doing such. America was built as a nation of immigrants, someone taking a chance on our ancestors, and we have to do to same. These are actual people, not hypothetical  “what ifs” on a psychology study.

Science Confirms What We All Know: Internet Trolls Are Horrible People

When Data & Society released their report on online harassment, digital abuse and cyberstalking in America, the statistics confirmed what we all learned from the election: internet trolls are everywhere. The report, which compiled recorded instances of harassment over an 18th month period across the US, states that 47% of Americans have been victims of online harassment whereas over 72% of internet users witness such abuse from their own computer screens. These numbers are sure to rise over the next 18 months as internet trolls have become emboldened by our new president, arguably the biggest, nastiest troll of all time. But not all trolls can be as evil and sadistic as their online personas, can they?

Of course they can. In fact, researchers at the University of Manitoba found just that. In their paper Trolls Just Wanna Have Fun, psychologists Erin Buckels and Paul Trapnel profiled the personality characteristics of self-identified trolls. Most importantly, they wanted to determine whether the trolls’ personalities consisted of traits associated with the psychologically evil Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (self-obsession and inflated sense of ego), psychopathy (defined here as a lack of remorse and empathy) and sadism (a sense of pleasure in hurting others).


Pepe the Psychopath Frog

In order to identify the trolls wreaking havoc on the internet, the scientists simply asked a population of 1215 survey takers what they enjoyed most when commenting on web sites. Their options were: “debating issues that are important to you”, “chatting with others”, “making new friends”, “trolling”, and “other”.  Yes, the researchers found the harassers by literally asking if they identified as trolls, and the trolls were proud enough of their behavior to admit to it. Sounds about right to me.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has a working internet connection: trolling was significantly associated with all the traits of the Dark Tetrad except for narcissism where there was a positive association, but not strong enough to reach significance. The trait of sadism was found to be the highest associated with trolling behavior, implying that the bullies enjoy the harm they bring to others. The amount of time spend commenting on the internet also was found to be associated with higher levels of these dark traits, their sadism growing with every new disturbing post.


Hundreds of people proudly identified as trolls. And Machiavellian, narcissistic, psychopathic, sadistic and as all-around horrible people.  

If the words “Dark Tetrad” aren’t enough to scare you away from these insidious creatures, then perhaps a sub-study by the researchers will. Using survey samples from Amazon Mechanical Turk and college students, Buckels and Trapnel wanted to see if they could determine why trolling attracts these psychologically disturbing personality profiles. They even coined their own survey instrument, aptly titled the Global Assessment of Internet Trolling, or GAIT. Here are some of the actual terms from the assessment:

The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt

I like to troll people in forums or the comments sections of websites

I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz

I enjoy griefing other players in multiplayer games

People actually said yes to these questions. Researchers comment that endorsing such atrocious intentions further supports the assertion that sadism is highly associated with trolling. Not only do the sadists enjoy internet bullying and harassment, they are so proud of themselves that they actually admit to identifying as a troll and engaging in such vile behavior. Authors reveled in this information, stating that “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

Perhaps for their next study researchers can identify trolls by their hair?

So how do we keep trolls away from their beloved swings and slides? The answer is complicated, and perhaps, unsolvable. News websites such as Recode, The Verge, Reuters, Mic, Popular Science, The Week, and USA Today’s FTW have discarded their comments section after the rise of the internet troll. On the other hand, websites such as 4chan are breeding grounds for trolls, where they can get together to plan attacks on other internet users and not face repercussions due to anonymity.

Study authors also comment on the troubles of fixing this potent problem. “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),” said Buckels. “Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.”


The actual face of a troll when you respond to them calling you a racist against white people.

The rise of our President presents another problem. Usually trolls live under the guise of anonymity, tied only to their IP address. This troll stands atop a podium, making his name known to the world one gilded Trump Tower and tweet at a time. His sadism not only feeds his own already gargantuan ego, but feeds the egos of those who copy his childish behavior online.

The best way to deal with trolls, in my opinion and based on the research, is to tackle their egos. We have seen time and time again with Trump becoming visibly irritated when presented with concrete facts that diminish his ego. When the numbers came in about his abysmal attendance at his inauguration, he sent a fury of tweets that millions attended (wrong!). When he lost the popular vote by close to three million ballots, Trump has signed an executive order saying that he lost due to massive voter fraud without any evidence (sad!). Trump even shut down the EPA for tweeting evidence for climate change, which he decrees as a “hoax” (too bad!). Trump only relies on emotions. We’ve seen in throughout the election debates. He could not, and still cannot, produce any concrete plans for tax cuts, healthcare replacement, or crime in inner cities, but instead focused all of his campaign on creating emotion in voters by painting Clinton as corrupt and bible belters as a forgotten population in America. Presenting Trump with facts that he cannot explain with his emotions is slowly causing him to become unhinged and will ultimately lead to his downfall if he continues on this path.


An actual article from It doesn’t matter that what he says makes no sense! He speaks for me and stands up for the little guy! He’s a rich New Yorker, of course he understands Middle America and the lower class!

Internet troll problems can be solved similarly. Trolls, like Trump, feed off of your negative emotions. As the study shows, they don’t post to begin debates, they post because they like seeing you suffer, that your suffering makes them happy. You can accomplish this either by ignoring trolling behavior, or eliciting a tactic known as the Gray Rock Method. Developed initially to help people deal with psychopaths and stalkers, the Gray Rock Method involves simply becoming uninteresting in the eyes of whoever is harassing you. Instead of calling a troll an asshole or stupid in response, try giving a boring response that is void of emotion. Remember, a troll wants you to get emotional, so if you do not give them that, they will eventually leave you to find another target.

One statistic gleaned from the study, however, gives hope to those desiring to reclaim the safe haven of the internet. Researchers found that only 5.6% of the 1215 surveyed identified as trolls, whereas 41.3% of internet users identified as “non-commenters”. The presence of trolls seems to be greater than it actually is as most trolls post multiple comments on multiple platforms searching for that high from upsetting people. The act of trolling is a manifestation of everyday sadism, meaning that trolls are in constant need of harassment for stimulation. How many hours a day do you watch TV? How many hours do you spend texting or talking on your phone? Imagine spending all of those hours on the internet, needing to leave nasty comments for entertainment and excitement. All of those comments would certainly rack up, just as your phone data bill does toward the end of the month.

The biggest thing to remember is that internet trolls are not psychologically normal. They combined the scariest words in psychology together to form the term “Dark Tetrad” for a reason. Next time you witness internet harassment remember, these are sadistic people and replying to them is only feeding into their sadism. Remember, these people have to look in the mirror every day, or at least their reflection in their laptop screens. That should be punishment enough.


Two Days After the Women’s March, Trump Signs Executive Order to Defund Reproductive Care Groups


via Daily Prompt: Oversight

Donald Trump sent a big middle finger to the 1 million women who marched worldwide on Saturday by signing an executive order to reinstate the “global gag rule”, a policy that is just as bad as it sounds. This order also comes one day after the 44th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, a Supreme Court decision Trump is committed to overturning.

The global gag rule states that any foreign organization that provides abortion cannot receive funds from the US, even though it is illegal for governmental funds to be used for abortion. This means that family planning NGOs in developing countries will lose funds for contraceptives, HIV services, and even malaria treatment. In fact from 2001 to 2009 20 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East lost US donated contraceptives and many organizations were shut down entirely. Ironically enough, this plan did not reduce the amount of abortions, but instead increased the number of unsafe abortions practiced worldwide. You can read statistics about the implementation of the global gag rule at these links:

Global gag rule in Nepal:

Click to access ggrcase_nepal.pdf

Global gag rule in Kenya:

Click to access ggrcase_kenya_2006.pdf

Global gag rule in Zambia:

Click to access ggrcase_zambia_2006.pdf


We cannot, as citizens of one of the most privileged civilizations in the world stand, by idly while this “man” can do whatever he pleases with a subject he knows nothing about. Why older politicians are so obsessed with women’s rights and reproductive issues I do not know, but what I do know is that we must fight and not let this become an oversight. If we do fail to stand up now it is only a matter of time before abortion becomes defunded and possibly made criminalized in our own country. We need to continue the momentum from the Women’s March and channel it into positive decision making, positive action. The lives of our mothers, sisters, cousins and daughters depend on it.


Trump Isn’t the First Psychopath in the Oval Office (and He Probably Won’t Be the Last)


Today is January 20th, 2017. The first day of Donald Trump’s presidency and for most, the first day of the end of the world. We’ve constantly seen him belittle others on Twitter, condone sexual assault, and exert such grandiose assertions about multiple things (having the most diverse cabinet, bringing back jobs that have nothing to do with his position, and declaring himself so charming, that Mexico will listen to him to build a wall costing billions for no good reason, to name a few instances) that it is no wonder most label the “politician” as a psychopath. In fact, many psychologists are exercising their professional opinions, calling Trump not agreeable, neurotic, and unusually aggressive, many traits of psychopathy (you can read one such account here: So how did we actually elect a psychological monster to lead our country? Well it turns out we have done it before.

Researchers from Emory University began a study in 2010 delving into the psychopathic traits of 42 past presidents (up until and including George W. Bush) with the notion that some aspects of psychopathy (fearlessness, interpersonal dominance) can actually be beneficial to the leader of our country.

“Despite the lengthy research tradition linking psychopathy to unsuccessful behavior, a consistent strand of clinical lore has tied psychopathy, or at least certain features of it, to socially successful behavior across a variety of domains, including the business world, politics, and everyday life,” cites Scott O. Lilienfeld, first author of the paper. “These important results raise the possibility that psychopathy, or at least some features of it, are associated with certain aspects of adaptive functioning in workplace settings, although they may also be associated with certain aspects of maladaptive functioning.”

To test whether the presidents in fact shared traits consistent with psychopaths, researchers handed our surveys to the biographers of every US president, people who know the actions and personalities of the presidents best. Instead of answering the questions about themselves, they were asked to compile answers on behalf of their biographical subjects to questions taken from the Psychopathic Personality Inventory, PPI for short. The PPI consists of two factors: fearless dominance (social potency, stress immunity, and fearlessness) and self-centered impulsivity (careful nonplanfuless, impulse nonconformity, Machiavellian egocentricity and blame externalization). The psychologists also asked historians for ratings on presidential performance, leadership, persuasiveness, crisis management skills and Congressional relations to determine if certain traits on the PPI were correlated with a successful presidency.

Without further ado, here are the top psychopathic presidents according to the research:

1.      John F Kennedy

2.      William Clinton

3.      Andrew Jackson

4.      Theodore Roosevelt

5.      Lyndon B Johnson

6.      Franklin D Roosevelt

7.      Chester Arthur

8.      George W Bush

9.      Ronald Reagan

10.   Richard Nixon

11.   Andrew Johnson

12.   James Polk

13.   John Adams

14.   John Tyler

15.   Martin van Buren

16.   Woodrow Wilson

17.   Warren Harding

18.   William Harrison

19.   Benjamin Harrison

20.   James Earl Carter

21.   Zachary Taylor

22.   George Washington

23.   Thomas Jefferson

24.   Ulysses S Grant

25.   John Q Adams

26.   Dwight D Eisenhower

27.   Gerald Ford

28.   Abraham Lincoln

29.   James Garfield

30.   Harry S Truman

31.   Herbert Hoover

32.   Franklin Pierce

33.   James Madison

34.   Calvin Coolidge

35.   George H Bush

36.   Grover Cleveland

37.   James Buchanan

38.   William Taft

39.   Rutherford Hayes

40.   James Monroe

41.   Millard Fillmore

42.   William McKinley


The face of a real psychopath

If you are wondering how the hell Nixon didn’t clench the top spot, it boils down to the fact that some aspects of psychopathy are associated with being a better leader. The researchers found that higher levels of fearless dominance were associated with higher approval ratings, better leadership, and more initiative in starting projects. John F. Kennedy scored especially high here for his revolutionary work in the civil rights movement, while more forgettable presidents such as Van Buren scored lower.

In contrast, impulse antisociality ratings were negatively correlated with presidential success. Conversely, they were associated with Congressional impeachments, unsavory character and tolerating unethical behavior. It is no surprise that Bill Clinton snagged the highest rating in this category due to him impeachment and overall “discretions”.

Psychologist Kevin Dutton echoed the results of the study saying “Both great and terrible leaders score higher than the general population for psychopathic traits, but it is the mix of those traits that determines success.”

So how would our sparkly new President do if he were given the PPI? Recently Dr. Dutton took it upon himself to find out, while also contrasting our leader with infamous dictators, monarchs, and conquerors from history. Here is his list:

  1. Saddam Hussein, former President of Iraq (with a score of 189)
  2. King Henry VIII, former King of England (178)
  3. Idi Amin, former President of Uganda (176)
  4. Donald Trump (171)
  5. Adolf Hitler, former fuhrer of Nazi Germany (169)
  6. William the Conqueror, former king of England (165)
  7. Saint Paul, apostle (157)
  8. Jesus, son of God (157)
  9. Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of England (155)
  10. Napoleon Bonaparte, French military leader (153)
  11. Hilary Clinton, former Presidential candidate and hope for the future (152)

Yes, you read that correctly: Trump is more psychopathic than Hitler, especially on the traits of social influence and fearlessness. This is especially ironic given that Trump recently stated that the media treats him as if he were living in Nazi Germany:


Donald may actually be right about something

But if Jesus was enough of a psychopath to make the list, surely it is not all doom and gloom for the incoming administration. Dutton explains that it is all about how these traits work together, stating that “someone who scores highly for being influential, fearless and cold hearted could be a decisive leader who can make dispassionate decisions. If those traits are accompanied by a high score on blaming others, they might be a genocidal demagogue.”




On second thought, I am going to invest in a bomb shelter after today.



Study Spotlight: Why Some Americans Don’t Believe in Global Warming (and No, it’s Not Because of the Chinese)


Evidence of climate change and global warming is everywhere. Seldom can one turn on the news without seeing reports of rising sea levels, shrinking ice sheets, extreme weather, and the acidification of our diverse oceans. When President Elect Donald J. Trump proudly declared that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, educated citizens reacted with notions of incredulity. When his supporters came out in droves defending the “hoax,” we all reacted with shock and horror.

How can so many individuals ignore readily available facts that are unequivocal? Researchers at Utah State University set out to uncover why exactly individuals can throw away decades of scientific evidence. Peter Howe, an assistant professor of human-environment geography at the University’s Department of Environment and Society collaborated with researchers from Boston University, George Washington University, and Oxford University. The researchers based their data from more than 12,000 survey respondents across the nation, as collected by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication from 2008 to 2014.



“We found that places with more record high temperatures than lows have more residents who believe the planet is warming,” reported Howe. “Conversely, in places with more record low temperatures, more people tend to doubt global warming.”

Northern states were found to have a lower percentage of residents believing in climate change, including North Dakota with only 56% of inhabitants agreeing that global warming is a tangible problem. The states with the highest proportion of surveyed adults agreeing that global warming exists, unsurprisingly, were Hawaii and California with 75% and 70% of yes votes respectively.  States in the middle portion of the United States reported statistics between those high and low percentages with Missouri coming in with 60% of occupants agreeing that climate change exists, North Carolina with 62%, and Colorado with 66%.

This coincides with multiple tweets from the President Elect who commonly cites snow and freezing temperatures in winter as evidence against the science of climate change. People who do not experience warmer temperature frequently are more stubborn to believe that the planet is warming. Individuals rely more on anecdotal and personal experiences when forming opinions, and because weather is experienced on a daily basis, everyone thinks they are an expert. How can global warming be real when I am freezing in North Dakota all the time?


“One of the greatest challenges to communicating scientific findings about climate change is the cognitive disconnect between local and global events,” added Michael Mann of George Washington University. “It’s easy to assume that what you experience at home must be happening elsewhere.”

So how can entities living in colder areas be convinced of the ravages of our warming climate? The key, according to scientists, is in our phrasing.

It is first important to differentiate the concept of weather, the temperatures of an area over a relatively short period of time, and climate, the average temperature of an area that occurs during a period of 25 or 30 years. Sure it may be freezing and snowing now, but is it less cold than the winters you remember from your childhood?

Secondly, word choice comes into play when discussing the changing phenomena themselves. If one lives in an area far from the equator experiencing record low temperatures, then global warming is a discouraging term. However if propositioned with the phrasing climate change, some naysayers may change their tune. While they may not be able to recollect changing temperatures, they may be cognizant to supplementary environmental changes such as an increase in rainfall, smog, or storm occurrences that are also symptomatic of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


Researchers are optimistic that adapting the dialogue when discussing climate change can encourage positive discussion about the fate of our planet.

“Our work highlights some of the challenges of communicating about climate change, and the importance of situating people’s experiences at the local level within the larger global context,” Howe cemented.

In his final presidential address, Barrack Obama echoed the importance of universal acceptance of climate change while also lamenting that action is more important than collective agreement.  “Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change,” he remarked to an audience of 24 million television viewers. “They’ll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.”

With this study showing that only 63% of Americans believe in climate change due to their inability to look beyond their own location, it is best to heed President Obama’s advice to go forward and combat the insidious effects head on.  There will always be people who say racism doesn’t exist because they live in a white neighborhood, abortion is unnecessary because they live in the Bible belt, and that 9/11 was enacted by the government because they live in their parents’ basements clad in tin foil hats. Climate change is not about convincing people that there is a problem, but about combating the problem while there is still an earth standing.


You can read more about Dr. Howe’s research and his maps on climate change opinion at: